Franz Schwarz is hugely experienced in international arbitrations for disputes spanning a variety of sectors, including project finance and joint venture-related matters.
Mr Schwarz is global vice chair of the international arbitration practice at WilmerHale. He has been involved in over 250 commercial and investment arbitrations, as both counsel and arbitrator, with a particular focus on civil law jurisdictions around the world. Mr Schwarz is vice president of the International Arbitral Centre in Vienna and a board member of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA). Mr Schwarz is the recipient of the inaugural ASA Prize for Advocacy for his “outstanding talent” as an advocate. Who’s Who Legal has previously referred to him as “possessed of the winning gene” and “one of the best advocates in the world.”
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
I blame US courtroom dramas on TV. And as we all know, it is exactly like that in real life. Only better.
What did you find most challenging about entering into arbitration practice?
When I started working in arbitration in London, the best arbitration practitioners were naturally all native English speakers. Performing compelling advocacy in a language other than your own, in a different culture with different reference points, was challenging. But the non-native speaker has advantages: more simplicity, less mannerism.
In what ways have you noticed tribunals becoming more sophisticated and entertaining a greater variety of techniques in proceedings?
For me, the flexibility that arbitration affords has always been a source of
fascination and fun. I do think that after a period of stagnation, we now see procedures in flux again – client demand for greater efficiency and the necessities of the pandemic have been great breeding grounds for new ideas and techniques. And perhaps a healthy competition between common lawyers and civil lawyers pushing notions from their own systems. I have recently seen a tribunal, at the merits hearing, spending three hours walking through the case, and seeking clarifications on factual and legal points, after the opening statements but before the taking of evidence. Everyone went into the witness testimony with a new sense of focus.
In your experience, what advantages can clients benefit from in hiring a bilingual arbitrator?
Language is communication, and that’s the primary tool of advocacy. But language is also culture. A multi-lingual arbitration lawyer, or a multi-lingual team, can understand so much more than foreign-language documents: they can ‘translate’ cultural references and legal notions across systems. For this reason, we always try to build teams that reflect, in language and background, the substance of the case, the legal system, and, importantly, the tribunal.
As the vice chair of the international arbitration practice group at WilmerHale, what are your main priorities for the group’s development over the next couple of years?
We have so many amazing and diverse next generation lawyers in the group. I want them to succeed, to the benefit of our clients.