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Claus von Wobeser

Claus von Wobeser

Managing Partner, Head of Arbitration

Von Wobeser y Sierra SC (Mexico City)

Mexico

Biography

Claus has more than 40 years of experience in dispute resolution. He has acted in more than 200 international arbitration and conciliation proceedings, either as arbitrator or counsel, as per the rules of the ICC, ICDR, LCIA, HKIAC, UNCITRAL, NAFTA, ICSID and ICSID Additional Facility. 

Currently, he is Vice President of the Latin American Arbitration Association. Claus has received numerous accolades that recognise him as a leading figure in arbitration at an international level.

Claus has served as VP of the International Court of Arbitration of the ICC, as Co-Chair to the IBA Arbitration Committee and as President of the Arbitration Commission of the Mexican Chapter of ICC.

Additionally, Claus frequently participates as an expert in arbitration proceedings as well as on proceedings related to Mexican law before US and English courts. 

Moreover, Claus also has ample experience litigating in both in arbitration and in Mexican court with regards to a wide array of matters such as complex patent disputes, shareholder disputes, breach of contract and tortious liability, among others. 

In November 2017, Claus won the Lifetime Achievement Award from Chambers and Partners for his contribution to the legal profession. 

Questions & Answers

Thought Leaders 2018 - Interview with Claus von Wobeser

Describe your practice at the firm

Professionally speaking, I devote most of my time to acting as an arbitrator and counsel in complex cases seated all over the world, particularly in the fields of construction, infrastructure and energy. I am also highly involved in investor-state disputes in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and I frequently act as counsel in contract-based disputes against agencies or companies owned by the Mexican government.

The dispute resolution practice of our firm is one of the largest in Latin America and we continue to grow each year. Specifically, our arbitration team is composed of four partners – Marco Tulio Venegas, Adrián Magallanes, Montserrat Manzano and myself, of course – as well as around 22 attorneys, give or take.

What do you enjoy most about being an arbitrator?

I really enjoy the opportunity to hear some of the brightest legal minds at an international level argue before me. I particularly enjoy studying the files of complex disputes, participating in the hearing and resolving the dispute, particularly if there are issues of law to be decided.

I am very proud of the fact that, from more than 100 awards I have rendered either as a tribunal member or as a solo arbitrator, only one of them has been annulled, and that annulment was limited to an issue of quantum, not the merits.

What was the most challenging case you have ever worked on and why?

The most challenging case I have ever worked on was probably the famous Commisa v Pemex case. I participated in this case for several years, at different stages including the arbitration; the award annulment litigation in Mexico; the award enforcement litigation in New York; and the administrative litigation in Monterrey, and I was acting in different roles. It was gratifying to ultimately see a favourable result for Commisa after so many years of litigation.

What makes arbitration an attractive option for commercial dispute resolution in your opinion?

I do not think there is a better adversarial method of resolving cross-border or complex disputes. On one hand, arbitration gives the parties from different countries neutrality in the adjudication of their disputes. On the other hand, due to the excessive workload of judicial courts all over the world, and particularly in developing economies, arbitral tribunals generally have a lot more time than judges to fully analyse the case in a detailed and profound manner, therefore maximising the probability of a better outcome in complex or highly technical cases.

How has arbitration developed in Mexico since you first started practising? How do you expect the practice to evolve over the next five years?

My arbitration practice started very early in my career. By the time I was presiding tribunals in international arbitration cases, arbitration was close to non-existent in Mexico. Also, there were very few cases in Latin America. My first arbitration cases as arbitrator did not involve parties from either Mexico or Latin America.

Over the past two decades arbitration has grown exponentially, however, and I expect this growth to continue in the coming years. Today, Latin American arbitration constitutes 16% of the ICC’s total caseload. I am proud of the efforts that other colleagues and I have made to promote arbitration in the region. I do not wish to exclude anyone, but the names of Yves Derains, Bernardo Cremades and Horacio Grigera come to my mind when thinking of who is particularly responsible for the very successful promotion of arbitration in the region back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

What do clients look for when selecting an arbitrator?

I believe the parties and their counsel seek arbitrators with two important characteristics. First, they seek arbitrators who will fully understand their case from a legal standpoint, who are responsible, and who they trust will study their case sufficiently. Second, they seek candidates who have persuasive authority and the ability to convince the rest of the tribunal members in the event that there is any disagreement.

How would you like to see Von Wobeser y Sierra develop in the coming years?

The firm is now undergoing an institutionalisation process and, together with specialised external advisers, my partners and I are investing a lot of time and effort into creating a solid organisation, operating under rules that will ensure that, over the years to come, we continue to provide the same excellent service with the same commitment to clients that we currently do.

We are a large firm by Mexican standards. We provide legal services in basically all areas of law except for criminal law and family law, and we are now at 15 partners and around 80 attorneys. My expectation is that the firm will continue growing and our challenge is to continue providing the same excellent service that our clients are accustomed to – and that is also the reason new clients contact us.

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

Two important goals come to mind. First, to finalise the institutionalisation process of our firm in a successful and gratifying manner for my partners and me, but more importantly for the younger generation of attorneys who are the basis of our firm, as well as for those who will join us in the future. My second goal is to continue promoting arbitration in Mexico.

I am also proud to say that close to 1,000 students have studied on the postgraduate programme in commercial arbitration that I founded in Mexico 25 years ago with the support of the ICC and the Escuela Libre de Derecho, my alma mater. Many local and federal judges and magistrates of the Mexican judiciary have studied on this programme, and many of them have ruled on cases using the things they learned on the course. I certainly hope that this number will continue growing exponentially, as I would love to see Mexico becoming an important arbitration seat under international standards. I believe we have all that is needed for this to happen.

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