Pierre Tercier is "a wonderful arbitrator", as well as "highly independent and one of the best chairmen". He is an authority when it comes to commercial and investment arbitration.
Professor Pierre Tercier is an emeritus professor of the University of Fribourg, the honorary chairman of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, and a prominent international arbitrator with extensive experience in international arbitration, having served mainly as president in more than 100 international arbitrations under various rules (eg, ICC, ICSID, LCIA, SIAC, CRCICA, SCC, UNCITRAL, etc) covering various sectors.
What first attracted you to a career in law?
Fifty years later, it is still difficult to give a full answer. Probably, my attraction to social relationships and the need to taste clear and fair rules. I was also very much attracted to literature; in a sense, law has a lot to do with language and words (Paul Valéry said, “The law is the word in action.”). Fifty years later, I can confirm that it was a good choice.
What do you enjoy most about working on multinational arbitrations?
Speaking as a Swiss professor who has spent most of his career in Switzerland, multinational arbitrations offer an incredible set of challenges: the discovery of other legal systems dealing sometimes very differently with the same issues that I used to teach my students; the discovery of the extraordinary complexity of human and business activities; the opportunity to meet great people, from everywhere in the world, without any exception of race, origin, gender or age.
How has your practice evolved now you have retired as a professor?
Happily, already during the time I was a professor, I was allowed to develop other activities, in particular in antitrust practice, but especially in arbitration. I started with small cases and with time I was more and more often appointed in large disputes. I part-retired from the university when I became chairman of the ICC Court of Arbitration. I devoted the rest of my life to arbitration and, after my retirement from the ICC, I was able to develop a boutique from where I had the pleasure to be active, mostly as chairman, in important commercial and investment arbitration cases. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to prolong your career from academia to practice at such a level.
What shaped your decision not to join a law firm?
I have never tried to join a law firm and I only had to decline a few offers that I received after I had retired from the ICC. The decision for me was and is clear: I find that the position of “independent” arbitrator is the best. You can decide everything on your own, without having to follow instructions and guidelines of the practice; you may conduct the procedure efficiently, with a small team; and you can avoid most conflicts of interest.
How have arbitration proceedings changed over your four-decade spanning career, and how can practitioners deal with these changes?
There are indeed a lot of important changes. First, the banalisation of the arbitration. When I started, it was more or less exceptional. Nowadays, it is becoming the normal way of resolving disputes.
Second, standardisation. When I started, the procedure and the way to conduct it were far more simple and flexible. Nowadays it appears (especially under the influence of big US law firms)that the style is more and more the same.
Third, internationalisation. When I started, the arbitration proceedings were mostly limited to regional disputes. Nowadays, although there are still important procedures of this kind, the frame has totally changed – arbitration has no limits and includes all legal cultures.
Finally, commercialisation. When I started, arbitration was an activity more or less carried out as a secondary task by some elderly counsels, professors and professionals. Nowadays it is clearly a business sector. Practitioners have to keep in mind the essence of arbitration: not primarily to make money, but help other people to solve their disputes as an exercise of justice.
How is the generational shift affecting arbitration proceedings? What do younger lawyers do differently?
When I started my activities as an arbitrator, I do not remember having really received an education on arbitration at the university. I learned it on the spot. In that regard, for the younger generation, things have evolved. Arbitration is becoming a classical field in all law faculties, and there are a lot of programmes and events organised for them. However, I do not think that the main core of arbitration has changed and in particular that today, like before, the substantive law remains essential.
Looking back over your detailed career, what has been your proudest achievement?
The question pushes me to be presumptuous. However, I would say that my biggest source of pride is to have assisted, in the course of 50 years, a large number young lawyers to pursue and develop a career – on the university benches of course, and later as assistants in my activities as an arbitrator and chairman of the ICC Court of arbitration, and even now in some lectures that I am invited to give. My life has primarily been devoted to education. I may, however, also assume that I have generally been able to master some rather difficult and tricky procedures, still now, and I think that I have also been able, with my colleagues, to render some interesting decisions, which have sometimes been a bit revolutionary.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I received a lot, thankfully. Just one out of hundreds from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Speaking is a need, listening is an art.” It appears to me that the greatest risk in arbitration is that the actors are not ready and able to really listen to the others – be it parties, counsels, co-arbitrators.
"He is highly independent and one of the best chairmen"
"Pierre is a true legend"
"He is wonderful"
Professor Pierre Tercier is an emeritus professor of the University of Fribourg; the honorary chairman of the ICC International Court of Arbitration; and a prominent international arbitrator with extensive experience in international arbitration, having served mainly as President in more than 100 international arbitrations under various rules (ie, ICC, ICSID, LCIA, SIAC, CRCICA, SCC, UNCITRAL, etc) covering various sectors.
For over a generation, Professor Tercier has also been one of the most respected legal scholars in the country. He has authored more than 250 legal writings, focusing on contract law and international arbitration. He was professor of law and the dean of the University of Fribourg. He also taught at the University of Geneva and the EPFL in Lausanne, in Paris I, Paris II, Paris IV, Cambridge University, Columbia Law School and at the Max-Planck Institute for private international law. Currently, he teaches selected topics in international arbitration at the University of Geneva/Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, Torino University and Georgetown University Law Center, among other institutions.
Professor Tercier is a member of the advisory board of ICCA; a former president of the International Court of Arbitration of the ICC; and a former chair of the Swiss Commission on Competition, the Swiss Cartel Commission and the Swiss Insurance Law Society.
He completed his postgraduate studies in Hamburg (Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law) and at the University of Cambridge; and received a doctorate in law and legal practice from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, summa cum laude. He passed the bar exam at University of Fribourg in 1969.