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Switzerland In Brief

Switzerland, typically a quiet and stable jurisdiction, has in recent years felt the tremors of change. International pressures have led to legislative reforms in a number of key sectors of the economy, while low interest rates and concerns around immigration, which are hot topics around the world, are present too in the cantons. Competition in the legal market remains strong, with a healthy mix of full-service firms and highly specialised boutiques. As reported in other jurisdictions, downward pressure on fees remains a hot topic, with clients reluctant to stick with the hourly rate model. For many in the jurisdiction 2018 has been an active year, and with Switzerland so closely linked to the world economy, 2019 is likely to see that trend continue.

Interest rates raise the temperature

In the aftermath of the financial crisis a decade ago, many central banks loosened monetary policy in order to spur growth. While the move achieved the goal of steering their battered economies out of recession, low interest rates have in many cases failed to spur the kind of growth seen in the decades before the crisis. Vast quantitative easing programmes have also lowered yields in the secondary markets, meaning that fund managers have had to look elsewhere for their profits. In Switzerland, the situation has been further compounded by the extraordinary use of negative interest rates. Seemingly, the Swiss National Bank had little choice. With its reputation for stability and proximity to the EU, it quickly emerged as the location of choice for much-needed respite from financial instability. With trade tensions on the rise and populism growing in the eurozone, Switzerland has been viewed by many as an attractive location to store wealth.

However, negative interest rates have had a profound effect on institutional investors. Those managing funds have been forced into a corner by the central bank’s policy. In trying to find a way to turn negative rates into a positive return, they have settled on the real estate market as the most reliable source of income. Money has poured into the space, with lawyers describing “incredibly low yields and incredibly high prices”. In short, funds remain undeterred. In a market such as this, the chance to turn -0.75 per cent into 1 per cent can make a big difference.

The horizon for the sector has dark clouds over it. Following a high-profile public debate, in 2014 an initiative to limit immigration was accepted by 50.3 per cent of voters, despite the fact that around one-quarter of the Swiss population has an immigrant background. Recent figures show that net immigration has fallen sharply in the past few years and in 2017 was only just over half the 2013 rate. Possibly as a result of this drop, lawyers in Zurich fear that “there isn’t demand for new apartments”. With supply rapidly outstripping demand, sources state that “a market correction is coming for the private sector”.

For the time being prices, and interest rates, are holding. Whether the market price will adjust organically as investors lose confidence, or there will be a sudden change as interest rates normalise, remains to be seen. Lawyers enjoy an active space in the meantime, however, with a steady stream of transactions reported for the coming months.

 

All eyes on Switzerland

Switzerland’s financial opacity has long been a thorn in the side of international governments. Tax competitiveness reigns supreme among global fiscal policies and few can claim to be as competitive as Switzerland. Complementing its emphasis on corporate and individual tax relief, it has also been a traditional stronghold for banking secrecy. Lawyers we spoke to in the banking and tax sectors suggest, however, that this reputation may be about to change.

Pressure from the international community has finally seen success in the form of new banking and tax regulation. Eighty-year-old legislation protecting the secrecy of clients’ financial information is unravelling at breakneck pace as the Swiss government ratifies new information-sharing agreements with jurisdictions around the globe. The most significant blow came five years ago when the authorities buckled under pressure from the United States to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Following hot on the heels of FATCA, the Swiss are now signatories to the OECD’s “automatic exchange of information” (AEOI) agreement which came into effect at the start of 2018.

Behind the prosaic titles of these legislative agreements lie highly contentious and market-changing rules. Prior to the advent of the AEOI banks only reported information on their clients’ financial affairs upon request by a particular nation state. This led to massive asymmetries of information between national regulators. The discovery of base erosion has caused uproar in an age where taxpayer money has been used to bail out financial institutions. The AEOI has been damaging to the Swiss banking industry. One of its chief attractions was its secrecy. Many lawyers we spoke to have noted that there is now much work in assisting with corporate reorganisations as foreign financial institutions look to repatriate profits.

The Swiss’ appetite for financial upheaval does not end there. After the rejection of the Corporate Tax Reform III of 2017, the Swiss Federal Council has come back with the new and improved Tax Proposal 17. The aim of the reform is to address preferential tax regimes that had frustrated international counterparts such as the EU. The reform also aims to make Switzerland more tax-competitive, providing a tax cut of 5.6 per cent (as a weighted average across the cantons). Some lawyers appeared to raise a cynical eyebrow at the latest proposal, suggesting that “the new version has no difference really”. Different or not, concerns from voters appear to have been tempered by a 2 billion franc boost to family allowances for the pension system.

Fortunately for businesses operating in Switzerland, lawyers in the space appear to be well ahead of the curve. One practitioner told us that “the reforms have been out there for a few years already” but that any change is “something that needs to be monitored by clients”. The preparations for the bill, likely to implemented at the start of 2020, have been stepping up recently. Sources state that they will “bring substantial work for tax advisers” as firms look to adjust their structures.

 

Competition

The Swiss legal market remains “enormously competitive”, with firms in the space noting an increasing prevalence of boutiques. At the same time, sources describe “increasing international competition in the market from Anglo-Saxon firms”. Our research reflects these trends. While domestic full-service firms continue to dominate the guide, we see an increasing prevalence of internationals such as Baker McKenzie, CMS and Sidley Austin. Conversely, some legal practice areas such as arbitration and IP have seen strong performances from boutiques including Lévy Kaufmann-Kohler and Times Attorneys.

Given the evolving trends in the global economy and Switzerland’s own domestic reforms, it seems reasonable to expect that the market can sustain such fierce competition among practitioners for the time being. The year ahead will be buoyed by regulatory changes, as the country adapts to an evolving economic situation. Lawyers in the jurisdiction can expect to be kept busy over the coming months.

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Analysis: Switzerland

Switzerland: Arbitration 2019

In this chapter we recognise the top 100 arbitration practitioners in the Swiss market who stand out for their work as counsel and arbitrator in a wide range of commercial disputes.

Switzerland: Arbitration Expert Witnesses 2019

In this chapter we highlight five arbitration expert witnesses who stand out for their excellence in providing analysis and expert testimony in both domestic and international arbitration proceedings.

Switzerland: Asset Recovery 2019

Here we identify 32 leading practitioners for their ability and knowledge in asset recovery matters on a domestic and international level.

Switzerland: Banking 2019

In this chapter we recognise 52 lawyers for their excellent work handling a range of financial and regulatory matters for clients across the banking sector.

Switzerland: Business Crime Defence 2019

This year’s research has identified 32 experts in business crime defence who excel in handling complex white-collar crime matters.

Switzerland: Capital Markets 2019

In this chapter we recognise 40 leading capital markets lawyers in the Swiss market, who stand out for their excellent work on debt and equity, and structured finance matters.

Switzerland: Competition 2019

In this chapter we recognise 25 individuals for their outstanding expertise in Swiss and EU competition law. They are highlighted for their excellent work handling a range of matters including merger control, cartel investigations and abuse of dominance cases. 

Switzerland: Competition Economists 2019

In this chapter we highlight four economists for their outstanding work handling a range of antitrust matters including M&A transactions, vertical restraint cases and regulatory compliance.

Switzerland: Construction & Real Estate 2019

In this chapter we recognise 52 construction and real estate lawyers in the Swiss market who have been selected for their expertise in commercial and residential matters across a large variety of sectors.

Switzerland: Corporate Governance 2019

In this chapter we identify the 23 foremost corporate governance practitioners in Switzerland. They have distinguished themselves in a variety of governance and liability matters across both public and private multinational and domestic corporate entities.

Switzerland: Corporate Immigration 2019

In this chapter we highlight 15 practitioners in the jurisdiction for their expertise assisting clients on issues including relocations, work permits and employee contracts.

Switzerland: Corporate Tax 2019

This year’s research into the Swiss corporate tax space sees 60 lawyers highlighted for their outstanding work on matters including transfer pricing, international tax planning and tax litigation.

Switzerland: Data 2019

This year’s research into the Swiss data market sees 49 individuals highlighted from across the jurisdiction for their work on matters including data privacy, outsourcing and systems integration.

Switzerland: Energy 2019

In this chapter we highlight 10 esteemed energy and natural resources lawyers who stand out for transactional and project-related matters, as well as disputes and sophisticated regulatory advice.

Switzerland: Environment 2019

This year we recognise 18 lawyers for their outstanding work in environmental law handling a range of regulatory, contentious and transactional matters.

Switzerland: Franchise 2019

In this chapter we recognise nine individuals for their excellent work advising clients on the establishment, maintenance and growth of their franchise businesses.

Switzerland: Government Contracts 2019

Here we shine a spotlight on 13 government contract lawyers who stand out in the Swiss market for their exceptional work in the public procurement space, handling contracts, as well as reviews and disputes arising from the tender process.

Switzerland: Insurance & Reinsurance 2019

In this chapter 29 practitioners are highlighted for their outstanding work in the field of insurance and reinsurance.

Switzerland: Investigations 2019

Over the course of our research we have identified 23 practitioners who stand out for their work in internal and external investigations with complex, multi-jurisdictional elements.

Switzerland: Investment Management 2019

In this chapter we recognise 24 practitioners for their outstanding work in the field of investment management.

Switzerland: Labour & Employment 2019

In this chapter we recognise 37 eminent labour and employment lawyers who stand out for their exceptional work handling group moves, benefits and compensation, reorganisations, and regulatory and auditing matters. 

Switzerland: Life Sciences 2019

In this chapter we highlight 34 practitioners from across the jurisdiction. They stand out in the market for their excellent work on contentious and non-contentious matters including patent design protection and pharmaceutical regulation.

Switzerland: Litigation 2019

In this chapter, we feature 60 prominent litigators who have been highly recommended by peers and clients alike for their expertise in complex dispute resolution.

Switzerland: M&A 2019

Here we highlight 43 impressive practitioners who gain recognition for their presence in M&A and transactional matters.

Switzerland: Mediation 2019

In this chapter we recognise 23 mediation lawyers who have been selected for their leading expertise handling a range of complex commercial disputes.

Switzerland: Patents 2019

This chapter sees 19 individuals highlighted for their excellent work on both contentious and non-contentious matters in the Swiss patents space.

Switzerland: Private Client 2019

In this chapter we recognise 73 lawyers for their outstanding work in advising individuals and their families in complex and cross-border matters relating to issues such as relocations, estate planning and international asset management.

Switzerland: Private Client Trust & Advisory 2019

In this chapter we recognise 21 non-lawyers for their expert knowledge of tax planning and wealth structuring for individuals and companies.

Switzerland: Product Liability Defence 2019

In this chapter we recognise nine impressive product liability lawyers who stand out for their excellence in contentious and non-contentious matters across a broad range of sectors.

Switzerland: Restructuring & Insolvency 2019

This year 24 restructuring and insolvency practitioners are recognised for their work in complex matters including liquidations, insolvency procedures, and financial restructurings.

Switzerland: Sports & Entertainment 2019

In this year’s sports and entertainment chapter we identify 34 outstanding lawyers for their work in the field. 

Switzerland: Trade & Customs 2019

In this chapter 18 lawyers are recognised for their expertise in trade and customs law.

Switzerland: Trademarks 2019

This chapter sees 47 individuals highlighted from the Swiss trademarks space. Their practices cover matters ranging from prosecution and licensing to unfair competition disputes.

Switzerland: Transport 2019

This year 39 practitioners are recognised for their excellent work in aviation, shipping and rail law, regularly handling financing, logistics, transactions, insurance and crisis management matters. 

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Firm Profiles: Switzerland

2019: Leading Firms

In the latest edition of WWL: Switzerland we feature practitioners at 265 firms, from specialised boutiques through to full-service outfits. However over 40 per cent of all listings this year come from just eight standout firms, which we profile here.

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