"Leading practitioner" Anne Véronique Schlaepfer garners extensive commendation from market sources, who note her as "a brilliant counsel" for arbitration.
Anne Véronique studied business administration and law. She worked as an associate before becoming partner at Schellenberg Wittmer, co-heading the arbitration department. In 2015, she joined White & Case and opened its arbitration department in Geneva, where she heads the firm’s regional office. She chaired the court administering Swiss Rules arbitrations and the IBA arbitration committee. She is vice president of the ICC Court; member of the ICC executive board and the LCIA Court; and founder of ASA Below 40 and YAP.
Describe your career to date.
I have been practising as counsel in various fields, notably in construction, oil and gas, and pharmaceutical disputes. I have had clients in several countries in Europe, Asia and South America, as well as the USA.
I am lead counsel in construction disputes relating to large projects (construction of refineries, petrochemical plants, hydropower plants, etc). These are complex proceedings, as several arbitrations may relate to a single project, in which technical, legal and contractual issues arise. It requires me to lead large teams of lawyers and experts in various fields, from various perspectives.
I have also advised clients in oil and gas disputes (gas price reopeners; sometimes disputes relating to upstream activities), and in pharmaceutical disputes.
Beside my activities as counsel, I have served as arbitrator in many disputes. Performing both roles is, in my view, a tremendous advantage as it allows me to better understand, one the one hand, what matters for arbitral tribunals and what they need to decide upon a given dispute; and, on the other hand, how complex the role of counsel may be.
I am also involved in the activities of arbitration institutions. These positions have given me the opportunity to acquire a broader view of the arbitration practice.
I recently chaired the IBA arbitration committee, which was an enriching experience (most notably as regards the development of soft law and its impact on arbitration practice). I am currently a member of the group in charge of revising the IBA Rules on evidence.
What do you enjoy most about working in arbitration?
Developing a strategy to present a case in the most favourable and convincing light is the most fascinating aspect. In most cases, we have to deal with large amounts of disorganised, and to a large extent useless, information. In the end, a limited number of issues will prove relevant and the dispute will be decided based on key facts, supported by a few key means of evidence. My role is to identify, as early as possible, which are these key issues (legal and factual) and how to present them in a manner that will convince a tribunal. This is by far not easy, but it is certainly the most interesting part of my work.
Having worked on a range of international disputes in various fields, what lessons have you been able to draw from these cases?
Each case is different. Lawyers must adapt to the clients (not the other way round), understanding their needs and expectations (and those of the arbitral tribunals).
You have been active across numerous arbitral institutions. How has viewing arbitration from a variety of such angles affected your view of it as a method of dispute resolution?
It has shown me that the quality of arbitration essentially depends on the quality of those involved in a given proceeding. Moreover, the key advantage of arbitration is its flexibility and adaptability. This must remain so. The tendency to over-manage and regulate arbitration is often a sign of lack of understanding and experience.
How is it possible to best manage and meet expectations clients have from their counsel?
Probably the best, if not the only, way to do it is to be as straightforward as possible. The issue sometimes is not so much the message itself, but finding the right manner and form to deliver it.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
We will have to develop strategies to be even more efficient (dealing with facts and addressing legal issues in a clear manner). This will not be easy, given the current tendency to overwhelm lawyers, parties and arbitrators with thousands of documents, which are largely useless.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
It is difficult to say. Winning difficult cases is always a source of satisfaction, because it conveys the feeling (right or wrong) that the efforts made, the strategy put in place to convince the tribunal helped to make the difference. More generally, it is a great pleasure to win, when we feel that the result really matters for our clients.
What advice would you give to younger arbitrators hoping to one day be in your position?
First to watch and understand how arbitration proceedings unfold. Then, it is important to practise and test one’s ideas with other practitioners who have more experience. Young practitioners have to develop their own skills, which implies a lot of work.
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 a partner in White & Case’s international arbitration practice and is based in Geneva.
Anne Véronique has acted as counsel in more than 100 arbitration proceedings involving, among others, construction contracts, pharmaceuticals and energy (upstream and downstream).
She has also served as arbitrator in more than 30 cases and represents parties before Swiss courts in arbitration-related court proceedings, in particular in challenges to arbitral awards.
Anne Véronique is a member of the ICC executive board and a vice president of the ICC Court. She is also a member of the LCIA Court and on the panel of arbitrators of the British Virgin Islands International Arbitration Centre.
She has been at the forefront of the development of international arbitration, including as co-chair of the IBA arbitration committee (2015-2016) and chairperson of the Arbitration Court administering Swiss Rules arbitrations (2010-2013).
According to leading directories and publications, such as Chambers and Who’s Who Legal, Anne Véronique is "a really experienced specialist in the international arbitration area” who “knows the strategies of every step of the arbitration procedure and defends the client's interests in every way." She has particular knowledge of construction and energy disputes. She is "always well-prepared and never less than excellent", and “one of the foremost counsel in Geneva." Market observers say that "she's smart, knowledgeable, and has very strong advocacy skills." Clients note, "She is very experienced and precise. She has an impressive command of the arbitration process and thinks about things very theoretically."