Meeting with Domitille Baizeau, partner at Lalive, a leading law firm in Geneva. Overview of the Swiss market and the international arbitration practice.
Leaders League. What makes Lalive the leader in the Swiss market for international arbitration?
Domitille Baizeau. Its experience – which dates back to the firm’s founding by the Lalive brothers, two pioneers of international arbitration and public international law – and its highly international team, which is unique in Switzerland (sixteen nationalities, fourteen languages, and many cases where Lalive acts as counsel and arbitrator). Drawing on these strengths, we are able to compete with the best firms based in London and Paris. Over the last ten years, we have managed to build a real and unparalleled arbitration power house in Switzerland.
Leaders League. What is your recruitment policy, and what does Lalive do to attract (and retain) talent?
D.B. We rely heavily on unsolicited applications, of which we receive many, and word of mouth. We offer our employees what we expect from them in return: diligent yet very enriching work, the management of a very wide variety of cases, a high level of responsibility, ready availability and great flexibility in the organisation of their work, a strong commitment while taking into account their private life, and the time and financial support to participate – very early in their careers – in conferences, get involved in associations, publish their work and thereby create an international arbitration profile for themselves. These requirements and opportunities will lead to more independence in the course of their career, depending on their experience, motivation and qualities.
Leaders League.Why do Swiss firms set the benchmark for the arbitration market in Switzerland and worldwide?
D.B. Switzerland is one of the best arbitration venues in the world. Early in the 20th century, Geneva and Zurich were already active centres of international arbitration through their chambers of commerce. That enabled Switzerland to train and attract many arbitrators, in addition to counsel specialised in the area. Swiss law, including the Code of Obligations, is also a highly prized law insofar as it is “neutral” in terms of international trade. Generally speaking, the neutrality of Switzerland within the European Union and the fact that it serves as the headquarters of many organisations, are factors that contribute to its influence regarding international arbitration. Conversely, domestic arbitration is under-developed.
Leaders League. How do you explain the fact that international firms are having trouble establishing themselves on the market?
D.B. The Swiss market is very limited. Its openness to the world in terms of trade and services makes us forget that the country has only eight million inhabitants and that its industry and services – though renowned in many sectors (luxury, pharmaceutical, food-processing and financial/banking services) – are in fact working in a market that is relatively insignificant compared to its French and German neighbours. Many foreign law firms have difficulty surviving in Switzerland, apart from firms specialised in WTO law. Accordingly, Winston & Strawn closed its office in Geneva. However, White & Case and Orrick recently opened offices there, aimed at focusing on international arbitration. Only time will tell whether their business here will be a success, but from our perspective, this new competition is a good development for Switzerland as an arbitration venue.
Leaders League. How would you describe the firm’s international business?
D.B. Lalive is known for its international business across all its areas of practice: litigation, white collar crime and compliance, structuring, the financing and negotiation of complex international contracts, in particular regarding construction and infrastructure projects, worldwide and especially in emerging countries. Lalive’s business in arbitration has a strong international dimension: wide-ranging disputes subject to various common law and civil law rights. The firm works in English, French, Italian, German, and increasingly in Spanish. Most of the disputes and cases in which we are involved are related to the energy sector (oil, gas, solar energy and mines), telecommunications, construction and the pharmaceutical industry.
Translated from the French.