Dorothee Schramm receives worldwide endorsements for her first-rate arbitration practice which sees her handle complex commercial disputes across a variety of sectors. One peer notes, "Her briefs are the best ones I've ever read."
Describe your career to date.
After passing my German law degree, my Swiss PhD in private international law and my Swiss bar, I started my arbitration career at one of Switzerland’s largest firms in their Geneva and Zurich offices. I then went more international by joining Sidley Austin LLP in Geneva, where I spent over 11 years as part of a common law team, including eight years as the firm’s only Swiss partner and two years as head of Europe of Sidley’s Global Life Sciences industry group. In these roles, I constantly adapted to and translated between different legal systems and business cultures. In September 2022, I left Sidley to become an independent international arbitrator, free of conflicts of interest.
What aspect of your work do you find most satisfying?
It is most satisfying if a commercial dispute gets resolved, either by settlement or through a sound and well-reasoned decision. On the way to the final resolution of a dispute, I also find it rewarding if the tribunal manages to prevent further aggravations between the parties. This is particularly satisfying in cross-cultural constellations, which are most prone to misconceptions and misunderstandings.
How does your vast experience across diverse sectors complement your arbitration practice?
Commercial disputes are driven by the realities on the ground. Understanding these realities, and the industries in which the parties operate, increases my understanding of a dispute, and hence the quality of my decision. My understanding has also been sharpened by my involvement in contracts and projects throughout their lifecycle. For example, I have been reading contracts with a different perspective since I drafted and negotiated a very complex R&D collaboration agreement over the course of a full year.
What qualities make for a successful arbitrator?
Of the many qualities a successful arbitrator should have, I want to highlight: (1) an interest in the subject matter and the willingness to listen, learn and understand the dispute in its legal, business, scientific, and cultural context; (2) strong case management skills; (3) competence and sound judgment combined with backbone; (4) the openness to adjust the procedure and the arbitrator’s style to the specific dispute and the specific parties; (5) a commitment to serving the parties, which includes efficiency, responsiveness, preparation, and perseverance in preparing a sound decision; (6) diligence and sufficient bandwidth, in particular in terms of time; and (7) integrity, credibility and trustworthiness.
Arbitrator independence and disclosure is a hot topic, with concerns that standards are opaque and restrictive. Do you agree?
I think arbitrators and parties alike would benefit from more unified standards across the borders of countries and arbitral institutions regarding: (1) what constitutes a conflict of interest; and (2) what should be disclosed as a matter of transparency, despite not constituting a conflict, and how far back. Regarding the second question, I believe in transparency, but transparency disclosures involve a judgment call to which there are different approaches. This makes it more difficult for parties to properly assess transparency disclosures by arbitrators.
Some practitioners report that, post pandemic, arbitration costs are deterring parties from bringing matters and causing a rise in the use of mediation to solve disputes. Is this your experience of the market?
In my view, parties have become increasingly cost conscious for many years, regardless of the pandemic. This is why I always discuss with parties from the outset different ways of building more efficiencies into the process. It is good if the cost aspect incentivizes parties to mediate, as an agreed business solution to a dispute is always preferable to a solution that is imposed by an enforceable decision. Every dispute resolved is a win for the parties, and a success for alternative dispute resolution.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?
I have received many excellent pieces of advice, but if I had to pick one, it would be the advice to use the power of being centred and always staying true to oneself. This has many aspects, including trusting your gut feeling and being mindful of your values. In this context I also found the “trust equation” about a person’s trustworthiness insightful: Trustworthiness = (credibility + reliability + connection) / self-interest.