Claus von Wobeser is founding partner and head of the dispute resolution practice of Von Wobeser y Sierra. He has acted in more than 200 international arbitration proceedings, as either arbitrator or counsel, as per the rules of the ICC, ICDR, LCIA, HKIAC, SCC, UNCITRAL, NAFTA, ICSID and ICSID Additional Facility, among others. He frequently participates as an expert in arbitration proceedings; and as an expert on Mexican law before US and English courts. His additional experience includes having acted as ad hoc judge of the Inter-American Human Rights Court, and as conciliator in ICSID proceedings.
Questions & Answers
Thought Leaders 2021 - Interview with Claus von Wobeser
Describe your career to date.
I started as a corporate lawyer, until I found my place in international arbitration. In my arbitration practice, 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. Also, I regularly act as counsel in contract-based disputes against agencies or companies owned by the Mexican government. In addition, I frequently participate as an expert in arbitration proceedings, and as an expert on Mexican law before US and English courts.
What do you enjoy most about being a lawyer in your practice area?
I particularly enjoy having the opportunity to work as both arbitrator and counsel. As counsel I have been honoured to build strong relationships with inspiring leaders across a variety of industries, and it is my privilege to protect their interests in Mexico and overseas. As an arbitrator, I am proud to uphold the rule of law assisting in developing standards that, if they are applied and upheld, might help to make Latin America an even more stable and welcoming investment environment. I am honoured to contribute to the development of international arbitration in the region.
What was the most challenging procedure or transaction you have ever worked on and why?
The most challenging case I have ever worked on is probably the Commisa v Pemex case. I participated in this case for several years and at different stages: the arbitration procedure, the award annulment procedure in Mexico, and the award enforcement proceedings abroad. I acted as an expert in Mexican law in the enforcement proceeding in New York and contributed to successfully convince the competent judge to enforce the award after it was annulled in Mexico. It was gratifying to ultimately see a favourable result for Commisa after so many years of litigation.
What are the greatest challenges for lawyers in your practice area in your country this year?
Presently, the covid-19 pandemic has forced the arbitration community to adapt to new technological tools to continue working on the ongoing arbitration procedures. The latter has been challenging from both perspectives, as arbitrator and counsel. As arbitrator, adapting to conduct online hearings, examine witnesses and ensure that the parties’ right to defend their case is always preserved. As counsel, it has been essential to continue defending clients’ rights appropriately through these new communications tools. However, from another point of view, adapting to the new reality and doing things differently could lead to positive changes in the practice.
How do you expect your practice to evolve over the next five years?
I think a radical change with regard to technology is expected in the international arbitration practice. In fact, such change is already happening and has certainly been accelerated with the covid-19 pandemic. Lawyers in arbitration are adapting to working with new technologies. This is particularly challenging for senior lawyers, who did not grow up with all these tools. Young lawyers have an advantage.
What do clients look for when selecting you as a lawyer?
In my experience, clients seek honesty and for their lawyer to always be very upfront with them with regards to their case. This leads to a fundamental factor: constant communication with clients, especially during these uncertain times. Also, clients want a lawyer who can provide them with practical and creative solutions to protect their business. Finally, a lawyer requires a well-prepared team to support him or her, especially when acting as counsel in arbitration.
How would you like to see your law firm develop in the coming years?
Our firm is undergoing an institutionalisation process with the assistance of external advisers. We are investing a lot of time and effort into creating a solid organisation, operating under rules that will ensure, over the years to come, that we continue to provide the same excellent service with the same commitment to clients as we currently do. What is more, we are working very hard to implement transparent rules so lawyers can know how to advance in their careers within the firm. We want younger generations to feel that they can professionally grow with us. So, in that way, we retain and develop talent at the firm.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
A pending goal that I have is writing my own book on arbitration. In the future, when I stop being so active in the cases of my firm, I would like to dedicate time to the academy. I want to contribute to the arbitration practice in the region by leaving a legacy, and to share my experiences and knowledge acquired throughout my professional career.