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
Can you briefly 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 acting as an arbitrator and counsel to 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, the Middle East 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 both as an arbitrator and counsel. As counsel, I have been honoured to build strong relationships with inspiring leaders across various 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 applied and upheld, might help to make Latin America an even more stable and welcoming investment environment. Additionally, my work within the Latin American Arbitration Association (ALArb) as the current president intends to further develop the arbitration practice in the region by creating a dynamic academic and professional forum and a networking space for the arbitration community. I am honoured to contribute to the development of international arbitration in the region.
What was the most challenging case or transaction you have ever worked on and why?
Commisa v Pemex case. I participated in this case for several years and at different stages, including the arbitration, 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. I 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?
This year, I think the arbitration community will continue to deal with the challenges of working in ongoing procedures in a remote format. Adapting to these new communication means has been challenging. However, we have discovered several advantages to it. For example, it’s possible to reduce the costs of the procedure when conducting a remote hearing instead of a physical one. At the same time, since in some offices lawyers are starting to go back to work, now they will probably have to adapt to a hybrid work format: both remotely and physically in the office. Additionally, Mexico has issued several new regulations in the energy sector that are relevant for foreign investors. Therefore, a lot of study of such new regulations and their consequences may be necessary.
How do you expect your practice to evolve over the next five years?
The covid-19 pandemic transformed international arbitration practice concerning technology. Last year, lawyers in arbitration were forced to adapt to new technologies to conduct proceedings. Arbitral institutions have also adapted to this new reality. For example, the new ICC arbitration rules expressly provide that the hearings may be held remotely. In my opinion, the technological tools that we have discovered during the pandemic are here to stay. Additionally, the pandemic proved that arbitration is an effective way to solve disputes, and it can all be done remotely or virtually, leading to positive changes with regard to costs and effectiveness. Thus, I think an increase in the number of arbitration cases will continue during the following years. In fact, according to the latest ICC numbers, the institution recorded a total of new 946 arbitration cases in 2020 – the highest number of cases since 2016. I believe that the numbers will continue to grow.
What do clients look for when selecting you as a lawyer?
In my experience, clients seek honesty, and for their lawyers to always be up-front with them with regard 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 must have a well-prepared team to support them, especially when acting as counsel.
How would you like to see your law firm develop in the coming years?
We are very excited about the present and the future of our firm. I would like to see a firm that continues to grow strategically and systematically, to attract the best and most diverse talent, and to provide excellent service to clients who love working with us. We believe in developing long-standing relationships with our clients.
For the past few years, we have embarked on an institutionalisation process with the assistance of specialised external advisers. In 2020 we invested significant time and effort into strengthening our organisation, providing solid foundations for the years to come.
As part of this institutionalisation process, we recently revamped and communicated rules, so our lawyers know what’s expected from them and how to advance in their careers within the firm. We want to continue attracting, developing and retaining the best talent since our people are the only sustainable competitive advantage.
We are proud to actively promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. On gender equality, while we recognise there is more work to do, as well as the need to accelerate the pace of change, we have reason to believe that we are heading in the right direction. For example, today, 50% of our counsel and 48% of our associates are women. In addition, of our six most recent partners, two are women and two are from the LGBT+ community. We have a diversity committee, the goal of which is to create a safe space where all employees are welcome and valued and can be authentic. We believe in the value of diverse teams based on gender, age, ethnic origin, social and economic backgrounds and sexual orientation, as diversity brings different and complementary points of view, which result in better outcomes.
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 still have is writing my book on arbitration. In the future, when I stop being so active in my firm’s cases, I would like to dedicate myself to academia. I want to contribute to the arbitration practice in the region by leaving a legacy, and transmit my experiences and the knowledge acquired throughout my professional career.