Maxi Scherer stands out as “a brilliant legal mind” who “combines strong judgement with a calm and controlled manner”. Peers speak highly of “her excellent combination of academia and practice” and she is widely known as “an excellent academic and arbitrator” and “one of the very best” in both commercial and investment arbitration.
Maxi Scherer is professor at Queen Mary, University of London and special counsel at WilmerHale. She has acted as counsel and served as arbitrator or legal expert in over 100 commercial and investor-state arbitrations, many with amounts in dispute of several billion dollars. Maxi is ranked in WWL Thought Leaders: Global Elite and peers have praised her “brilliant legal mind”, describing her as “an excellent academic and arbitrator” and “one of the very best” in both commercial and investment arbitration.
Describe your career to date.
Admitted to the bar in Paris (France) and as solicitor (England and Wales), I have practised international arbitration in major law firms in Paris and London for the past 20 years. Initially, my practice focused on representing clients in international arbitration proceedings in a variety of industry sectors. Over the past 10 years I have primarily served as arbitrator, in more than 50 cases, in both commercial and investment arbitrations. In addition to my private practice, in 2011, I joined Queen Mary University of London, where I hold the chair for international arbitration, dispute resolution and energy law.
On what sorts of matters do you find yourself arbitrating most frequently at present?
My practice has a strong focus in the energy sector: both renewables (hydro, solar, wind etc) and oil and gas, and related infrastructure, joint venture or post-M&A disputes. Geographically, the disputes are diverse, with links to Africa, China, South East Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe (including former CIS countries). Many of my arbitrations involve states or state-owned entities, including in commercial cases. For instance, I recently chaired an LCIA tribunal in a case involving a south-east European state and I am sitting in an ICC dispute over a petroleum production sharing agreement entered into by a former CIS State. I am also chairing an ad hoc investor-state dispute under the UNCITRAL Rules. The amounts in dispute typically are well over US$100 million and up to several billion dollars.
What do you enjoy most about acting as an arbitrator?
The interaction with the other tribunal members; the often highly technical nature of the disputes; and, if I am chairing, the procedural management and the drafting of procedural orders and awards.
How does your dual English and French qualification impact the type of work you see?
Many of my cases, as both counsel and arbitrator, have a multi-jurisdictional link to countries from civil and common law backgrounds. For instance, I am sitting in a case between two African parties (including one state-owned entity): one is from a French-speaking civil law-based country and the other is from an English-speaking common law-based country. In terms of language, I have been involved in arbitrations in German, French and English, though English is, of course, the most frequent.
How does your role as an academic complement your private practice?
When I joined Queen Mary University of London in 2011, I designed a new course on international energy arbitration which covers both commercial and investor-state aspects. The course, the first of its kind, has now over 100 students each year from around the world. I also published a book with Oxford University Press on this topic in 2018. Both my teaching and scholarship are based on, and linked to, my experience as counsel and arbitrator in the field.
What impact is AI having on arbitration?
I started to ponder this question some time ago, considering how best to teach young lawyers and prepare them for their future career. I expressed my thoughts in my keynote speech at the Vienna Arbitration Days last year, which won the 2018 GAR Award for Best Lecture or Speech. Developments in AI will fundamentally change the ways we practise law and arbitration, and we need to consider carefully how these changes will impact our profession. In order to do so, we need to understand technological developments in the AI sector. For the time being, tech-savvy arbitrators are as common as vegan butchers.
What steps can be taken to improve diversity in international arbitration?
A diverse pool of candidates ensures the highest possible quality for the selection of arbitrators, counsel, conference speakers etc. Any restriction on the pool of candidates inevitably decreases the chances to find the best person for the job. I therefore follow a simple rule: I always draw up a list of candidates that includes an equal number of women and men, as well as candidates who are younger and from less represented geographical or cultural backgrounds. From that list, I select the best candidate: here, the aim is to be colour-blind, gender-blind, age-blind etc, and only choose the best-suited person for the task.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in arbitration?
Get a good education in law and international arbitration; be curious about what is going on in the world; and – most importantly – enjoy whatever comes along your way. There is no one-size-fits-all career path into the profession.