Peter Reichart focuses on disputes in state courts and before arbitral tribunals in banking, finance and insurance matters. He handles D&O liability claims, professional malpractice suits and disputes over licence agreements, particularly in connection with media rights. He also sits as an arbitrator in his field of expertise. Peter holds a doctorate degree from the University of Zurich (summa cum laude) and an LLM degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
On which types of matters have clients sought your advice in the past year?
2020 was an extremely busy year, mainly due to covid-19. Wartmann Merker was flooded with new matters related to the economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the stock market crash in March 2020 caused, although brief, margin calls and substantial losses for investors caught off guard. The equilibrium of long-term contracts was disrupted by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to this, and unrelated to the pandemic, Wartmann Merker has seen a substantial rise in complex matters with high stakes in an international setting.
How do your arbitration and litigation practices complement and enhance each other?
Whether commercial disputes end up in state court or before an arbitral tribunal depends on the contract in question, so we represent our clients both in courts and in arbitral proceedings. In state courts, we have to take into account the strict formalities of procedural laws which calls for a high level of precision. By contrast, arguing a case before an arbitral tribunal often requires extensive work on the facts, eg, by questioning and preparing witnesses, or by wading through a huge number of documents. Both types of commercial dispute resolution have their merits, but as a rule of thumb, litigating a case in state courts tends to favour the defendant, whereas claimants have a better hope of succeeding when their case is tried before an arbitral tribunal.
What challenges do law firms face as targets of potential liability claims?
Clients are more and more inclined to scrutinise the legal work provided for them, and to dissect advice received from their lawyers under a magnifying glass. They are less willing to accept an unfavourable outcome if they perceive – rightly or wrongly – fault in the execution of a mandate. Combined with the fact that commercial law firms often handle important matters with high amounts at stake, liability claims pose significant financial and reputational risks for them. Law firms cannot fully exclude these risks, but they can mitigate them, inter alia with a strict quality control. When a law firm faces a liability claim, it is crucial that it carefully assesses the risks at an early stage together with outside counsel and its professional liability insurer.
How have parties sought to rebalance the equilibrium of their contracts due to covid-19?
Covid-19 has severely disrupted the equilibrium of many contracts, namely long-term contracts. More often than not the parties did not foresee the possibility of such an unprecedented development when entering into the contract. As a result, the contractual framework does not readily answer the question whether, and if yes how, the contract has to be rebalanced. It is difficult to find a new equilibrium in negotiations under these challenging circumstances, so we have seen a number of disputes ending up before a court or an arbitral tribunal.
How have the amounts at stake in disputes developed in the past few years?
As far as I can tell, amounts in dispute have skyrocketed in the past few years. It is difficult to point out one single explanation for this development, but it seems that sophisticated parties try to solve smaller disputes out of court in order to focus on the disputes that really matter.
How does Wartmann Merker distinguish itself from its competitors?
Wartmann Merker is a boutique law firm for the resolution of complex commercial disputes. Due to its focus and size, it has hardly any conflicts of interest. The firm stands out for its high-quality work and for its experience in handling international commercial disputes, and is trusted by its clients for its unwavering dedication in the pursuit of their interests. In the last few years our firm has been extremely busy, and I do not expect any shortage of dispute resolution work in the foreseeable future.
Peter Reichart is known for handling “high-profile, complex litigations in Switzerland, often in an international context”. One peer effuses: “Peter is probably one of the best lawyers you can get in Zurich in his field of expertise, notably commercial and employment litigation.”
Peter Reichart focuses on representing parties in state courts and before arbitral tribunals in banking, finance and insurance matters, as well as regarding infrastructure projects, D&O-liability claims, professional malpractice suits, and licence agreements, particularly in connection with media rights. He also sits as an arbitrator in his field of expertise. Peter holds a doctorate degree from the University of Zurich (summa cum laude) and an LL.M. degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the field of commercial dispute resolution?
While studying law at the University of Zurich, I had the chance to participate in a course at the Federal Supreme Court. The students were given a real case and had to write an opinion as if they were Supreme Court Justices. Afterwards, we could listen to the public deliberations of the Supreme Court, and see how the case was decided. I was hooked. Finally, I could put my theoretical knowledge to use in a real case – and I desperately wanted to “win” (which, I have to admit, I did not).
What do clients look for in an effective litigator?
Clients are demanding – and they have every right to be. They presuppose absolute dedication, they seek sound strategic advice, they want a candid assessment of their case and their chances, they request that their lawyer truly masters the facts, they want to see their case presented clearly and forcefully. But let’s be frank, ultimately clients evaluate litigators based on their success.
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
Lawyers in Switzerland have become ever more focused and specialised. While it was common when I started practising law that lawyers advised clients on a wide range of issues, today clients, especially sophisticated ones, want to work with a true expert in the field. That is a chance for boutique firms like Wartmann Merker specialising in commercial dispute resolution.
What impact will the recent revisions to the Swiss Civil Procedure Code have on your practice and the dispute resolution landscape in Switzerland more broadly?
One exciting development is that it shall become possible to conduct civil court proceedings in other languages than the official language of the respective canton. The intention is that international commercial disputes can be litigated in English, comparable to arbitral proceedings. That will be a boost for the project of the Zurich International Commercial Court (ZICC), an initiative of a working group of the Zurich Bar Association of which I am a member.
What procedural issues relating to dispute resolution do you see arising from covid-19 where the majority of participants continue to live under lockdown?
While courts in Switzerland have resumed holding hearings on a regular basis, covid-19 still poses a number of challenges: due to travel restrictions it has become more difficult and time-consuming to get instructions from clients, also many interviews, interrogations and witness examinations still have to be cancelled or postponed, and court proceedings have slowed down considerably.
What is the most memorable case you have been a part of?
The collapse of the Swissair group of companies back in 2001 generated a plethora of cases, namely complex directors and officers liability cases with many defendants and previously unseen amounts in dispute. Swissair has, so to speak, accompanied me for the better part of my career. Now, almost 20 years after the grounding of the Swissair fleet, it looks as if an overall settlement involving all directors and officers can be reached.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?
I plan to continue to work in my field of expertise. Lately, our firm has been extremely busy and I do not expect any shortage of dispute resolution work in the foreseeable future. Often, major economic disruptions, e.g. the financial crisis of 2007/2008, generate commercial disputes, and covid-19 and its ramifications on the worldwide economy will not be any different.
Peers highly recommend Peter Reichart for his adept handling of complex commercial and corporate litigation.
Peter Reichart's practice focuses on dispute resolution in complex commercial cases. He represents clients before state courts, arbitral tribunals and supervisory authorities. His practice includes disputes in the field of banking law, industrial and infrastructure projects, media law, and directors and officers liability.
Peter joined Wartmann & Merker in 1999 and has been a partner since 2002. Before, he worked as a legal assistant to Prof Dr Walter R Schluep (chair for Swiss and European private law and commercial law) (1992-1994), clerked at a district court (1994-1996), was an associate with an international law firm in Zurich (1996-1998) and a visiting foreign lawyer with Jenner & Block, Chicago (1999).
Peter graduated from the University of Zurich in 1991 (lic iur, magna cum laude). He earned his doctorate degree in 1995 with a thesis in private international law (summa cum laude; Professor Walther Hug prize). In 1999, he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor (LL.M).
Established in 1992, Wartmann & Merker's core area of practice is dispute resolution. The firm advises clients from Switzerland and abroad and represents them in court in all areas of commercial law. Members of the firm act as counsel or arbitrator in international and domestic arbitral proceedings. In addition, the firm advises Swiss manufacturing, trading and service companies, and it acts for foreign companies doing business in Switzerland, notably in the financial and media sectors.