Gisela Knuts is "a real star” who earns glowing approval from international sources who highlight her deep experience in a wide variety of arbitration cases, adding that she is "a great success” as an independent practitioner.
Gisela Knuts is an independent arbitrator based in Helsinki, Finland. During more than twenty years at Roschier, Attorneys Ltd., at which she was Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution Practice in Finland until end of May 2022, she acted as lead counsel in multi-million-euro disputes in various fields. As of June 2022, she practices as a full-time arbitrator. Gisela is recognised as a leading expert in dispute resolution in Finland by multiple international legal directories.
What attracted you to a career in arbitration?
Already early on in my career, I was attracted by the adversarial nature of dispute resolution, and of arbitration in particular. After all these years, it still fascinates me. In addition, the transnational nature of the work and the opportunity to have a ringside seat in international business makes arbitration a very interesting field to work in. I am happy to have found a field that I still feel passionate about after more than twenty years in it.
What qualities make for a successful arbitrator?
As counsel, I have always appreciated hands-on, hard working arbitrators who are not possessed by due process paranoia, while of course always keeping in mind the importance of rendering an enforceable award. As an arbitrator, I try to live up to those values.
In addition, a quality that is often overlooked in an arbitrator is curiosity. I believe a good arbitrator needs to be curious in nature – both when it comes to understanding the case and when it comes to following the development of our field. International arbitration is constantly evolving and in order to ensure that it remains an attractive method of dispute resolution, any successful arbitrator must keep up to speed with – and contribute to – this development.
In your experience, what advantages can clients benefit from hiring a multilingual arbitrator?
I think the main advantage is the trust in the system that a multilingual arbitrator brings. Because language is never just about language skills, it is also about having a deep understanding of cultural differences. In my experience, such cultural differences are often the root cause of the dispute between the parties.
There has been a lot of activity in Europe regarding infrastructure, with major highway and rail projects expected to impact the market. How effective is arbitration at dealing with such cases at the moment?
In my view, arbitration remains the best option to reach a final and enforceable resolution of the parties’ dispute in these fields. There is no better option at present, and there will always be a need for a fall-back option that leads to an enforceable result.
Having said that, I believe there is much room for improvement in the way we resolve disputes amicably, before they end up in arbitration. There is still much to do in the field of ADR, not in the least DRB’s, which can be quite effective in these types of projects, especially if they are employed early on. I do not think this development is in any way at odds with arbitration as the preferred method for reaching an enforceable result.
What green arbitration trends are currently prevalent in the market?
One of the few good things that the covid-19 pandemic resulted in is the digital leap that we all have experienced during the last years. The increased use of videoconferencing tools significantly reduces travelling and resource spending. Also, the digital tools for case management have helped us rapidly move towards paperless arbitrations.
One of the main challenges over the next few years will be to ensure that we continue considering these digital options after the pandemic, and that we do not automatically go back to the way things were done before. While I am not a strong proponent for digital hearings as the default option, the digital solutions inevitably bring a lot of flexibility. I hope we will be able to continue using those flexible solutions once they are no longer a must.
What made you decide to become an independent practitioner?
I think there comes a time in every arbitration practitioner’s career when you start considering the advantages of being an independent arbitrator. In particular for those who practice in big law, minimising conflicts is also a key driver.
Once I started sitting more as an arbitrator I also realised how much I actually enjoy drafting awards. In my role as a leader of big counsel teams, I mainly reviewed drafts prepared by my (very skilful) former associates, while as an arbitrator I get to draft myself – just like I did when I started off as an associate. And drafting really is so much fun! It is an integral part of the adjudication process, and of making sure that you get to the right result. For me, this was a major revelation.
And, of course, the freedom that the role of an independent arbitrator brings is undisputable.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
Undoubtedly the fact that I have been able to get where I am today – leaving a successful counsel career in one of the best law firms on the Nordic market and moving into being a full-time arbitrator – while maintaining a great relationship with my husband and raising two wonderful daughters together with him. My career has been a team effort, and I am really proud of what we have achieved together!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Choose your battles.