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.
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 talent 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!
"He is the smartest lawyer in the market"
"Pierre makes easy what looks like confusion and a lost cause"
"He is a shrewd advocate; good for big picture points and opening arguments"
"A dean of the bar"
"Excellent academic and arbitrator"
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 Law, member 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.