ao link
Who's Who Legal
Who's Who Legal
Menu
Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Claus von Wobeser is a long-standing figure in the arbitration market, with decades of dedicated experience acting in international arbitrations.

Questions & Answers

Claus von Wobeser is founding partner and head of the dispute resolution practice of Von Wobeser y Sierra. He has acted in more than 200 international arbitration proceedings, as either arbitrator or counsel, as per the rules of the ICC, ICDR, LCIA, HKIAC, SCC, UNCITRAL, NAFTA, ICSID and ICSID Additional Facility, among others. He frequently participates as an expert in arbitration proceedings, and as an expert on Mexican law before US and English courts. Additionally, his experience includes having acted as ad hoc judge of the Inter-American Human Rights Court and as conciliator in ICSID proceedings.

Describe your career to date. 

I started my career as a corporate lawyer before primarily focusing on dispute resolution. In my arbitration practice, I appear as arbitrator and counsel in complex cases seated around the world, particularly in the fields of construction, infrastructure and energy. I also regularly appear in investor-state disputes in Latin America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As counsel, I frequently represent domestic and multinational clients in contract-based disputes against agencies or entities owned by the Mexican government. I also participate as a legal expert in arbitration proceedings and before foreign courts. 

What challenges do parties bringing claims face at the moment? How can these issues be solved? 

Covid-19 has forced the arbitration community to adapt the way arbitrations are conducted and the manner in which parties, courts and arbitral institutions communicate with each other. Novel case management techniques have been implemented to ensure the fairness and efficiency of proceedings. The main challenges that parties are now facing pertain to remote hearings, such as cross-examining witnesses and experts remotely and presenting certain types of evidence (e.g. site visits/inspections). However, these challenges can be overcome if there is sufficient dialogue between the parties and the tribunal with the aim of finding an effective solution for all parties, as well as implementing prudent case management techniques. 

Have you found that cash flow issues are stopping parties from bringing claims? 

As covid-19 grew into a pandemic, many local courts - particularly in Latin America – suspended their work. I think we need to wait to have more data on how many arbitrations were in fact initiated to see if this has led to an increase or not in the use of arbitration. I would also anticipate an increase in disputes related to the effects of government measures that have been taken in response to the covid-19 crisis. 

To what extent can virtual hearings be relied on to decide high-stakes multibillion-dollar cases between parties? 

In my experience, remote hearings can be held very successfully. However, tribunals must, in concert with the parties, undertake considerable advanced planning, coordination and organisation, including the issuance of clear rules for the conduct of the hearing and technological testing to reduce any risks of party inequality. Since the beginning of this crisis, arbitral institutions have already published practical guidance in this regard. 

What procedural issues do you see arising from COVID-19 where the majority of participants continue to live under lockdown? 

Covid-19 has caused many hearings to be postponed. Considering the inability to foresee for how long the crisis, along with applicable travel and government restrictions, will last, there exists a potential conflict between ensuring the efficiency of the procedure and protecting the parties’ right to be heard. Ordering remote hearings is presently a particularly practical procedural solution, however tribunals must be vigilant of a broad range of due process concerns. Therefore, I think that the procedural issues arising from covid-19 will mainly be related to ensuring a balance between a fair and efficient resolution of disputes. Cybersecurity concerns also remain an issue for the industry to address, particularly in cases of sensitive subject matter and/or where one party is opposed to a remote hearing.

How has your firm adapted to address the challenges caused by covid-19?

In my law firm, this crisis has led us to implement different forms of remote working that we had not previously explored. We have learned to adapt to new technologies and try to maintain the work routine and efficiency of our lawyers. One way we have accomplished this is by having regular team calls for reporting the assignments that each lawyer has. In that way, we can efficiently distribute the workload. I am not currently working in Mexico City and I realise that today’s technology can perfectly allow us to work anywhere, and this a great advantage of our legal practice. 

What makes your firm stand out from its competitors in the market? 

We are truly a full-service law firm, which enables us to offer cohesive and all-encompassing legal solutions to our clients. Moreover, we have always had an organic growth model, as we have always had a strong culture for training our young lawyers comprehensively, through intellectually challenging work. That way we retain regional and global leaders in both transactional and contentious practice areas. From an arbitration perspective, we offer a comprehensive understanding of Latin American civil law legal systems and the complex manners in which they operate.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

I believe that one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received is that no matter what age you are, you never stop learning as a lawyer, particularly as an arbitration practitioner. It is essential to keep abreast with developments in the field and to never think that experience alone is enough to deal adequately with a legal issue.

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Claus von Wobeser is “a very seasoned practitioner”, report interviewees, who further deem him "one of the most sought-after arbitrators – and rightly so!"

Questions & Answers

Claus von Wobeser is founding partner and head of the dispute resolution practice of Von Wobeser y Sierra. He has acted in more than 200 international arbitration proceedings, as either arbitrator or counsel, as per the rules of the ICC, ICDR, LCIA, HKIAC, SCC, UNCITRAL, NAFTA, ICSID and ICSID Additional Facility, among others. He frequently participates as an expert in arbitration proceedings, and as an expert on Mexican law before US and English courts. Additionally, his experience includes having acted as ad hoc judge of the Inter-American Human Rights Court and as conciliator in ICSID proceedings.

What have you enjoyed about working as an arbitrator and counsel throughout your career?

Working as counsel and arbitrator are distinct yet equal pleasures. As counsel I have been honoured to build strong relationships with inspiring leaders across a variety of industries, and it is my privilege to protect their interests in Mexico and overseas. Acting as pro bono counsel, too, is deeply gratifying on a personal level and is an area of service that I am proud that my firm embraces. As an arbitrator, I have been proud to uphold the rule of law and assist in developing standards that, if applied and upheld, might help to make Latin America an even more stable and welcoming investment environment.

How do you develop and maintain sector-specific knowledge to effectively handle disputes?

I have had the benefit of developing my sector-specific knowledge over more than three decades of representative matters as both a transactional and disputes attorney within distinct sectors, and it is important to keep up to date with new developments. Additionally, I am fortunate to work among thought leaders across a variety of sectors within my full-service law firm. In particular, my partners in the dispute resolution group are also specialised in disputes in the energy sector (electricity, and oil and gas), infrastructure and contractual disputes in a wide range of industries, including, among others, automotive and consumer goods.

What do you make of the planned proposals for a multilateral investment court? 

I am a strong proponent of investor-state arbitration as the preferred mechanism for resolving investment disputes. The current system, in my opinion, works well and like any system could benefit from a few improvements. The multilateral investment court is a well-thought-out project; however, it will be faced with practical challenges and its execution will be difficult to achieve, given the wide-ranging positions countries and stakeholders need to agree on.

How have your roles in the ICC and the IBA enhanced your work in private practice?

My experience with the ICC has been central to my career. In fact, in my early career I was exclusively a transactional M&A lawyer. At the beginning of the 1980s, however, I became a member of the ICC Court of Arbitration, where I discovered the importance of arbitration and noticed that ICC international arbitration was non-existent in Latin America. I started acting as arbitrator in disputes that were unrelated to Mexico and began promoting dispute resolution in the region with Yves Derains and Bernardo Cremades. My experience as an ICC arbitrator led me to start undertaking party representation in disputes as counsel in the 1990s, following Mexico’s adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law, NAFTA, and reforms to the Mexican judicial system. My experiences with the IBA arbitration committee have further helped me to forge valuable relationships with a broader range of leading attorneys across the globe, which is of great value to my firm’s cross-border work.

How important is it for senior practitioners to assist and mentor young arbitrators and counsel to further their careers?

Arbitration has evolved in Latin America only in the past 30 years, and I have been fortunate to play a central role in its elaboration within the region. To ensure effective thought leadership going forward it is vitally important that young practitioners can tap into and evolve from the experiences of past generations. To achieve this, I not only work particularly closely with the young arbitration practitioners at my own firm, but I also frequently act as mentor with Young ICCA, and I helped to establish the ICC postgraduate diploma in international commercial arbitration at the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City (with more than 900 graduates in Mexico and Latin America, including members of the judiciary: around 150 judges, magistrates from the federal court system that shape the resolution of disputes in these areas). 

Which key points would you highlight to promote Mexico as a potential arbitration seat to parties?

Mexico has adopted international standards in its arbitration laws. They are based on, and do not significantly diverge from, the UNCITRAL Model Law, and Mexico also implements the New York Convention. Mexican courts are respectful of arbitration agreements and the principle of competence-competence. Moreover, they tend to favour the enforcement of arbitral awards, save for cases of violations of due process. Finally, Mexico offers first-rate arbitral institutions to select from, including the ICC, the Arbitration Centre Mexico (CAM) and the Arbitration and Mediation Commission of the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce (CANACO).

If you could implement one reform in international arbitration, what would it be? 

International arbitration in general has become inefficient. Parties’ submissions are often redundantly long and accompanied by an extraordinary number of exhibits. This leads to the expectation of longer submission periods for opposing counsel, and lengthy hearings. I hope to see a rise in the practice of drafting concise pleadings and preliminarily disposing of issues at an early stage, to streamline arbitrations. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own firm?

Before establishing a firm, it is important to ascertain a stable income base and solid knowledge on a particular area of law. When we started in 1986, we were fortunate to have a selection of clients willing to retain us to handle their day-to-day corporate work. When we started our dispute resolution practice, too, I had already acted on international cases as arbitrator, which helped the firm to bring in big-ticket representative matters. 

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Claus von Wobeser is “a very seasoned practitioner”, report interviewees, who further deem him “one of the most sought-after arbitrators – and rightly so!”

Questions & Answers

Claus von Wobeser is founding partner and head of the dispute resolution practice of Von Wobeser y Sierra. He has acted in more than 200 international arbitration proceedings, as either arbitrator or counsel, as per the rules of the ICC, ICDR, LCIA, HKIAC, SCC, UNCITRAL, NAFTA, ICSID and ICSID Additional Facility, among others. He frequently participates as an expert in arbitration proceedings, and as an expert on Mexican law before US and English courts. Additionally, his experience includes having acted as ad hoc judge of the Inter-American Human Rights Court and as conciliator in ICSID proceedings.

What do you enjoy most about working on complex disputes? 

Complex disputes commonly involve the application of various – potentially conflicting – legal regimes, as well as highly technical, sector-specific matters across a variety of industries. This makes working on them particularly intellectually challenging and often strongly contested. I am continuously learning from the cases I am involved in, both as arbitrator and counsel. Further, where cases are highly complex it is common for the lawyers involved in these proceedings to be of the highest level. The analyses are accordingly deeper and more sophisticated, both technically and legally, making eventual success all the more satisfying.

What qualities make an effective arbitrator?

In my opinion, an arbitrator needs to be proactive and efficient when conducting a procedure, particularly if he or she is the president of the tribunal. However, this efficiency should never be at the expense of the parties. That is, an effective arbitrator must know when to be firm with the parties if needed (eg, not allowing them to file unnecessary submissions, in order to preserve order in a hearing), but always ensuring that they feel completely heard and that they have fully exposed their case. An effective arbitrator finds a balance between efficiency of the procedure, preserving the parties’ rights and resolving the dispute.

If you could implement one reform in international arbitration, what would it be?

International arbitration in general has become inefficient. Parties’ submissions are often redundantly long and accompanied by an extraordinary number of exhibits. This leads to the expectation of longer submission periods for opposing counsel, and lengthy hearings. I hope to see a rise in the practice of drafting concise pleadings and preliminarily disposing of issues at an early stage, to streamline arbitrations.

What more should be done to improve the transparency of arbitration proceedings?

For investment arbitration, it has been long discussed that transparency needs to improve and one of the key issues is the publicity of the awards. In fact, in the current ICSID amendment process transparency is one of the main objectives, so I am sure that after this reform is implemented, procedures should be more transparent. Regarding commercial arbitration, I think that proceedings should remain confidential because it’s one of the features that private parties usually seek when choosing arbitration to settle disputes.

Has covid-19 had an impact on commercial arbitration and litigation? Are parties willing to be flexible in procedure and approach?

The covid-19 pandemic has really forced the arbitration community to adapt to new technological tools and in general be more flexible in order to continue working on ongoing arbitration procedures. The latter has presented challenges for counsels wishing to continue defending their clients’ rights appropriately through these new communications means – for example, learning to interrogate witnesses online. From this point of view, adapting to these new realities and doing things differently could lead to positive changes in the practice.

What advice would you give to younger lawyers who aspire to one day be in your position?

I think it is important to specialise and have a solid base in a particular area of law. It helped me a lot to have been a transactional M&A lawyer first because, later in my arbitration practice, this allowed me to understand deeply the disputes related to transactions and the conflicts between shareholders, among other matters. In general, my main advice for young lawyers is that they must work very hard, and endeavour to grow and advance in their professional careers. Behind all success there is always a lot of effort involved, and this will give them confidence in their abilities. Finally, I recommend they conduct themselves honestly and modestly throughout their career. This will help them to have a solid and reliable reputation in any area of law.

Global Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader
WWL Ranking: Recommended

National Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
WWL Ranking: Recommended
Law Business Research
Law Business Research Ltd
Meridian House, 34-35 Farringdon Street
London EC4A 4HL, UK
© Law Business Research Ltd 1998-2021. All rights reserved.
Company No.: 03281866