Anne Véronique Schlaepfer possesses a wealth of experience appearing before the Swiss courts, and is recognised for her excellent work on the enforcement of arbitral awards.
Anne Véronique Schlaepfer is one of the leading international arbitration lawyers in Switzerland. She is a partner in the firm’s international arbitration practice and executive partner of the Geneva office. Anne Véronique holds leadership roles at some of world’s most important arbitral institutions. She has acted as counsel in 100+ arbitration proceedings, served as arbitrator in 30+ cases and represents parties before Swiss courts in arbitration-related court proceedings, in particular in challenges to arbitral awards.
What have been the highlights of your practice in the past year?
2019 was a very positive year, in terms of number and variety of cases, as well as in terms of outcome.
How do you seek to continually develop and maintain sector-specific knowledge to effectively handle disputes?
It is a combination of work on matters, which is the best way to maintain, test and increase knowledge, and a more theoretical approach consisting of reading, writing, speaking at conferences and listening to our peers.
How do you, as an arbitrator, try to ensure hearings are fair for all parties?
The tribunal must try to determine what the parties expect from the arbitration. It is therefore important to discuss and listen to them at the outset. Then the tribunal should stick to the rules it has set, unless changes appear warranted, which may indeed happen. Predictability is important for parties and no one should have the impression that the tribunal changes its position each time a party agitates the threat of due process. It is never good for a tribunal to be afraid of its own shadow. If a difficulty arises, discussions with the parties are often more efficient than letters and emails.
Should more be done to improve the transparency of arbitration proceedings?
Transparency is a means, not a purpose. While it is an important factor, it cannot supersede others, such as efficiency and competence. It would be good to shift our focus a little to other aspects than just “transparency”.
Has covid-19 had an impact on commercial arbitration? Are parties willing to be flexible in procedure and approach to get it over the line?
In my view, it is too early to assess the impact of covid-19 on commercial arbitration. There has been an immediate reaction, aiming at continuing proceedings, notably by organising virtual hearings. Tremendous efforts have been made by arbitration teams and tribunals, which are worth noting. If I look at my own practice, the number of hearings we have held and submissions we have filed during this period is amazing. This is indeed very positive. However, we first have to get out of this period to assess whether the changes or evolution, which were imposed upon us by the circumstances, will remain. For instance regarding virtual hearings, we were able to experience their advantages, but also their limits. The lack of in person discussions, meetings with clients and colleagues also highlighted how important these are in the long run. Hence, all in all, we should avoid being dogmatic here, one way or the other, and see what positive outcome we may get out of these difficult times.
What procedural issues do you see arising from covid-19 where the majority of participants continue to live under lockdown?
If participants continue to live under lockdown, as they did in the course of the previous months, procedural issues will be the least of our concerns.
What steps can the Swiss arbitration community take to remain competitive against other arbitration centres gaining prominence?
Swiss arbitration practitioners tend to be pragmatic. This allows them to be flexible and to adapt to the evolution of the parties’ needs. This is key. Then the Swiss arbitration community must keep its high level of competence, expertise and professionalism, which implies to form the new generation.
How can senior arbitrators assist and mentor young practitioners to further their careers and transition them into leadership roles?
By involving them in matters and by encouraging them to read, participate in conferences, listen to others and then express their own views.