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Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

Questions & Answers

Internationally recognised for his competence, extensive experience and intellectual honesty, Professor Pierre Mayer is considered one of the few great names of international arbitration. He now acts mainly as an arbitrator, in both commercial and investment arbitration procedures. He is a specialist in international arbitration law and private international law, two subjects that he has taught for decades at the University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), where he was a professor from 1984 to 2012 and has been an emeritus professor since 2012. Prior to setting up his own office, Professor Pierre Mayer practiced with Coudert Brothers, Clifford Chance and Dechert, where he was a partner for 10 years.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN LAW?

I was motivated to pursue a career in law by my family tradition, which I wanted to continue. Both my parents were avocats at the Paris Bar.

YOU FOCUS THE MAJORITY OF YOUR PRACTICE ON ACTING AS ARBITRATOR – WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ROLE THAT APPEALS TO YOU?

First, I like resolving difficult problems. Second, I like to find out where the justice of the case lies. By justice I mean a correct result of applicable rules to the facts of the case. In my experience, it is extremely rare that the application of the law and/or contract terms result in an unfair outcome. Even in such cases, the law normally provides tools to address the unfairness.

HOW HAS THE PRACTICE OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION CHANGED SINCE YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER?

I observe arbitration becoming a heavier process: hundred-pages-long redfern schedules, constant procedural requests from the parties, extremely long memorials, excessive numbers of exhibits filed, etc. I regret that certain common law practices – which are not bad in themselves – are abused in arbitral practice.

TO WHAT EXTENT IS SECTOR AND INDUSTRY-RELATED SPECIALISATION ON THE PART OF THE ARBITRATOR IMPORTANT? 

The only sector/industry that – to my knowledge – requires a specific specialisation is construction. In certain other sectors, a specialisation can facilitate the arbitrators’ work but is not absolutely necessary. This is the case, for example, in the energy sector.

WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING THE NEXT GENERATION OF ARBITRATION LAWYERS?

I imagine that arbitration has become even more competitive than it used to be due to its increased attractiveness and the high number of professionals now claiming to be arbitration practitioners. In this new context, it might be more difficult to stand out.

WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE DISPUTE YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

The most memorable cases I have worked on are probably those in which I acted as counsel, because the role is more challenging. Among those, the case concerning the sale by France of military frigates to Taiwan, involving corruption of foreign officials, is probably the most memorable. As to my role as arbitrator, the unfortunately memorable cases are those in which I was a co-arbitrator and, on two occasions, I felt that the outcome reached in the award by the majority was profoundly unjust.

WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED?

I do not remember having received advice that really struck me. However, the advice I do give to young practitioners is to be themselves and not to a get a big head as soon as they become successful.

WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?

My daughter, who is a university professor specialised in civil procedure and a young arbitrator.

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Pierre Mayer is “one of the most sophisticated and intelligent arbitrators in the market” according to peers who “have a lot of respect for his work” as both arbitrator and counsel.

Questions & Answers

Internationally recognised for his competence, extensive experience and intellectual honesty, Professor Pierre Mayer is considered one of the few great names of international arbitration. He now acts mainly as an arbitrator, in both commercial and investment arbitration procedures. He is a specialist in international arbitration law and private international law, both of which he has taught for decades at the University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) where he has served as a professor (1984–2012) and emeritus professor (2012–).

Describe your career to date.

I started my career, having defended my doctoral thesis on private international law, as a professor of law. The last part of that activity, for almost 30 years, took place at the University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), where I taught private international law, the law of contracts, and arbitration law. In parallel, I worked as consultant, first with Coudert Frères, then with Clifford Chance, before joining Dechert as a partner. During these years I worked as counsel in arbitration disputes, and as arbitrator. I left Dechert in 2015, to create my own firm, in which I act exclusively as arbitrator, with the help of an associate. I appear as either chairman or co-arbitrator (very rarely as sole arbitrator) in both commercial and (increasingly) investment cases.

I am, inter alia, a member of the Institute of International Law; the council of the ICC Institute of World Business Law; and the board of the French Arbitration Committee. I am a past president of the International Academy for Arbitration Law, and the committee on international commercial arbitration of the International Law Association.

What do you enjoy most about working as an arbitrator?

First, I like resolving difficult problems. Second, I like to find out where the justice of the case lies. By “justice”, I mean a correct result of applicable rules to the facts of the case. In my experience, it is extremely rare that the application of the law and/or contract terms results in an unfair outcome. Even in such cases, the law normally provides tools to address the unfairness.

What motivated you to set up your own practice?

Since I prefer the role of arbitrator to that of counsel, I had to leave a firm in which conflicts of interest were a constant obstacle to my being appointed arbitrator.

What do parties look for in a successful arbitrator?

Parties expect that the arbitrators devote the time necessary to perfectly know and understand the dispute. If the arbitrator contemplated for appointment is successful, they may fear that he or she may be too busy to read the memorials, witness statements, expert reports, exhibits, etc, that an arbitrator must master. Therefore, it is essential for a successful arbitrator to be known for managing to be perfectly prepared, despite having numerous ongoing cases.

How do you begin preparing for a new case as arbitrator?

It is essential not to wait until the hearing before reading the memorials, documents, etc. First, it may happen that some urgent and time-consuming matter will take all of your time just before the hearing. Second, unlike 20 or 30 years ago, incidents frequently arise between one’s appointment and the hearing: requests for provisional measures, complaints that the other party has not respected a procedural order, etc. Deciding requests for the production of documents, in particular, implies a perfect knowledge of the parties’ arguments and evidence already submitted. Third, it may appear, at a given point in the proceedings – for instance, after the first exchange of memorials – that an issue that the tribunal finds essential to the resolution of the dispute has not been dealt with by the parties, making it necessary to inform the parties or convene a new case management conference. The downside of this practice is that it forces the arbitrator to read a second time, before the hearing, everything that had already been read, and since forgotten. For that reason, I make detailed and careful notes of everything I read. That helps, later.

What, in your opinion, is the reason for increased allegations of corruption in arbitration?

Corruption exists but allegations of corruption are difficult to prove. Until recently, arbitrators were not keen to declare that there had been corruption on the mere basis of vague indicia, and they were also not inclined to take initiatives to establish the existence of corruption. Parties were, therefore, not encouraged to make an allegation of corruption that would lead nowhere. The situation has changed because arbitrators’ attitude has changed. They no longer cast a lenient eye on corruption. A good example of this is the award rendered in 2013 in the Metal-Tech v Republic of Uzbekistan ICSID case, based on evidence collected pursuant to an order made ex officio by the tribunal. In addition, in some jurisdictions such as France, the courts’ control over the award is strict in that field, which encourages parties to make allegations of corruption whenever they think they might convince, if not the arbitral tribunal, the controlling court.

How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?

I hope to continue to sit as arbitrator in the coming years, and to enjoy it as much as I do now. I am fortunate to be appointed in complex, high-value and/or high-stakes disputes, and to work alongside very distinguished and competent colleagues. This makes my work both enjoyable and stimulating. In that sense, I hope that nothing changes in the next five years. Apart from that, I also hope to see my associate Céline Greenberg develop a successful practice as arbitrator. It is very gratifying to help young talents thrive, and she has bags of it.

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

Patience with computer problems!

Global Leader

Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Pierre Mayer is lauded as by peers as "a great arbitrator" who offers "superior legal analysis". His expertise spans both commercial and investment arbitration proceedings.

Biography

Internationally recognised for his competence, extensive experience and intellectual honesty, Professor Pierre Mayer is considered one of the few great names of international arbitration. He now acts mainly as an arbitrator, in both commercial and investment arbitration procedures.

He is a specialist in international arbitration law and private international law, two subjects which he has taught for decades at the University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) where he was a professor from 1984 to 2012 and has been an emeritus professor since 2012.

Prior to setting up his own office, Professor Pierre Mayer practiced with Coudert Brothers, Clifford Chance and Dechert, where he was a partner for 10 years.

A French qualified avocat, Professor Pierre Mayer has acted as counsel or arbitrator in hundreds of proceedings under a variety of ad hoc or institutional arbitration rules, in commercial and investment matters. His experience spans a variety of sectors and all forms of contracts.

Professor Pierre Mayer regularly speaks at conferences. He is the author of the reference textbook on French international private law and of a general course at the Hague Academy of International Law. He has published dozens of articles on arbitration law and practice and on private international law.

He is also, inter alia, former president of the International Academy for Arbitration Lawmember of the council of the ICC Institute of World Business Law, member of the board of the Comité français de l’arbitrage, member of the Institut de droit international, and former president of the committee on international commercial arbitration of the International Law Association.

A French national, Professor Pierre Mayer is fluent in English.

National Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
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