Georg von Segesser is described as “an outstanding arbitrator” who is well respected among peers, one of whom says he is “one of the best arbitrators I’ve ever seen”.
Georg von Segesser is an independent arbitrator who has acted as chairman, co-arbitrator, sole arbitrator and counsel in over 250 domestic and international commercial and investment arbitrations. His broad arbitration practice covers disputes related to joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, distributorships, oil and gas, construction, building and manufacturing contracts, service and cooperation agreements, intellectual property rights and trust disputes.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
An interest in how business and commercial activities can be structured and conducted to comply with the applicable legal framework. Practising law gives you opportunities to address issues which are always different depending on the industry and the trade with regard to which your assistance as a lawyer is required. It allows you to get involved in many business decision processes where not only legal issues but also an understanding of the commercial or technical aspects are needed.
What is it about your role as an arbitrator that you enjoy most?
The intellectual challenge and the analysis of legal issues in cooperation with other arbitrators and counsel. I have the privilege that in the cases I sit I can rely on a very high level of professional experience of colleagues and exchange of views and opinions, very often in a multicultural set-up, and also with challenging issues of facts and of special expertise. The co-operation among arbitrators is different from advocacy and allows much more an open and constructive discussion and approach.
Why did you decide to set up your own firm?
After having practised litigation, corporate law and international arbitration at my old firm for 35 years, my practice was more and more focused on arbitration as an arbitrator which increasingly created conflicts with the business law practice of the firm. In order to avoid this constraint and to be able to fully and exclusively dedicate my time to international arbitration I decided to continue with this activity in my own boutique.
In your view, why has arbitration become a popular form of dispute resolution in the context of trust disputes?
Trust disputes are frequently multiparty disputes and involve complex issues of trust law but in many cases also of international private law and succession laws. Large family trusts regularly involve aspects of the family business and its wealth. For resolving disputes, all these different aspects need to be understood and be dealt with in a way that all sides are able to accept the outcome of the arbitration so that the long-term purpose of the trust can be safeguarded. For this complex task experienced arbitrators can add substantial value to the dispute resolution process.
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 experience, parties have behaved flexibly in accepting new procedures and participating in hearings and case management meetings remotely so that an efficient conduct of the arbitration is warranted. These new techniques need careful preparation and all participants must fully understand how the process works. We are yet at the start of the pandemic, and it remains to be seen whether the entire proceedings can be conducted remotely from start to finish.
To what extent is Switzerland still a leading jurisdiction for arbitration, and what has it done to maintain its prestige in the area?
Switzerland, because of the experienced arbitrators, the know-how of counsel and its traditionally neutral position, is still a leading jurisdiction for arbitration. It has a liberal and pro-arbitration friendly arbitration law. The grounds for setting aside an award in international arbitration are very limited, only about seven per cent of challenges to commercial arbitral awards brought before the Federal Supreme Court are successful. In 2020 the arbitration law was revised and will enter into force in 2021 with changes to further increase the attractiveness of Switzerland as a forum for international arbitration, consolidating the existing arbitration-friendly jurisprudence (e.g. with regard to a revision of an award) and eliminating any uncertainty with regard to the arbitrability of, e.g. trust and estate disputes. Requests to set aside an award can also be filed with the Federal Supreme Court in English.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
To further pass on my experience and knowledge in international arbitration to the younger generation of arbitration practitioners and support them in their career as arbitrators and mediators.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Generally, arbitration must be reliable and produce first-class results – quick and cheap cannot be the objective!
"His experience and reputation are almost unparalleled"
"Un grand seigneur de l'arbitrage"
"An outstanding arbitrator!"
Georg von Segesser practises as an independent arbitrator. He has acted as chairman, co-arbitrator, sole arbitrator and counsel in over 250 domestic and international arbitrations (ICC, ICSID, Swiss Rules, DIS, SCC, VIAC, LCIA, ICDR, UNCITRAL and others) and as co-director of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for dormant accounts in Switzerland. He is an arbitrator of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His arbitration practice covers a broad range of issues, among them disputes related to joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, investment treaties, distributorships, oil and gas, construction, building and manufacturing contracts, service and cooperation agreements, and intellectual property rights.
Georg von Segesser has authored publications on international arbitration, property and trust law, and cultural and art law. He is a member of the Swiss Arbitration Association, the ICC Commission on Arbitration and ADR, the International Bar Association, the London Court of International Arbitration, the German Institution of Arbitration, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (fellowship), the International Centre for Dispute Resolution of the American Arbitration Association, and arbitration institutions in England, Austria, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, etc.
In 1971, Georg von Segesser graduated from Zurich University. After serving as a district court clerk (1971–1972), he worked as an associate and partner at Pestalozzi & Gmür in Zurich from 1973 until 1982, and as a foreign associate with Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts in New York from 1974 to 1975. In 1982, Georg von Segesser co-founded the law firm in Zurich which is now Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd, and became of counsel in 2015. In 2017, Georg von Segesser opened von Segesser Law Offices and continues to practise as an independent arbitrator.