Peers and clients say:
"Diana is one of the best Swiss arbitration lawyers"
"She impresses with the speed with which she handles matters"
"She is very well connected and knowledgeable"
Dr Diana Akikol is a partner at Walder Wyss in the firm’s Geneva office and a full-time arbitration specialist. With over 14 years of experience, she acts as counsel for multinational corporations and frequently sits as arbitrator under the major rules (including ICC, Swiss Rules, LCIA, UNCITRAL). Diana Akikol is the ICC Court member for Switzerland. She also serves on the court of the Swiss Arbitration Centre and the board of the Swiss Arbitration Association.
How did you come to specialise your practice in international arbitration?
It all started with my doctoral thesis on cross-border sales governed by the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), which sparked my interest in international commercial transactions. After over two years as a law clerk to the Supreme Court of the Canton of Berne in the white-collar crime division, I therefore decided to join the Geneva office of a major Swiss national law firm to specialise in international arbitration with a particular focus on international commercial disputes. The fact that Geneva attracts a consistently high inflow of international arbitration cases made it possible for me to position myself as a full-time arbitration practitioner at an early stage of my career, acting both as counsel and arbitrator.
How does your role as arbitrator enhance your approach when acting as counsel and vice versa?
My arbitrator experience is extremely beneficial to my role as counsel. Having sat as arbitrator (often as tribunal chair) in over 60 cases, I have come to understand what type of arguments and advocacy style will help present a party’s case in the most effective manner to the tribunal and which ones will rather not. Conversely, I think an ideal arbitrator is one who is familiar with counsel work. This type of arbitrator will not impose unrealistic time limits on the parties or issue procedural directions involving disproportionate costs. He or she will also understand why a submission is presented in a certain manner and what elements may have been left out from a party’s case. An arbitrator’s role as partner at a law firm and counsel to corporate clients is also likely to help in having a good understanding of the commercial aspects of a given case.
Do you envisage the emergence of any new arbitration seats that will rival those currently most popular?
I am convinced that the most popular seats of choice, including the top-three European arbitration destinations Switzerland, London and Paris, will remain leading over the foreseeable future.
To what extent has maintaining expertise across a broad range of industry sectors benefited your practice?
Building expertise and dealing with contractual issues across a broad range of industry sectors has allowed me to achieve certain synergies and bring a broader perspective to my case analysis. My overall expertise in contractual matters has tremendously benefitted from multisector activity.
To what extent has the international arbitration community met the challenge of improving diversity in recent years?
From what I can see, the past few years have brought quite some improvement in terms of gender diversity, thanks to a number of highly effective initiatives. Personally, I have sat on several all-female tribunals in recent years. I am also very pleased to see an ever-increasing number of female arbitration practitioners in Swiss law firms, including at partner level. While there is still some way to go to increase diversity of the arbitration community, including but not limited to racial, ethnic, religious, generational and gender diversity, I think the process takes time and measures to improve diversity must under no circumstances be at the expense of quality.
What is the most interesting arbitration you have been a part of?
The most memorable one, of course, is my very first arbitration: a Swiss Rules case involving numerous claims concerning a share purchase agreement, in which I appeared as counsel. I will also not forget my appointment as president of an ICC tribunal in a large construction case, which was particularly complex, both in terms of factual, technical and legal issues. I was fascinated by the technical side of the case and found it very rewarding to learn about the law applicable to the merits (which I had never applied before).
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I do not remember having ever received any advice. If I were asked to offer a piece of advice, I would say that excellent legal skills and committed work on each and every case are not sufficient to thrive in our field; it also takes intercultural skills, a curious mind and the willingness to learn on a life-long basis, a persuasive personality and the courage to make difficult decisions.