Humberto Sáenz Marinero
Novis Estudio Legal
Century Tower, 5th Floor B, Zona Rosa
San Salvador, El Salvador
Humberto Sáenz Marinero is praised by sources as "the best guy in Central America" for dispute resolution across a range of sectors, including telecommunications, construction, banking and energy.
Partner in Novis Estudio Legal. He has participated as a counsel and arbitrator in more than 100 national and international arbitrations proceedings, both institutional and ad hoc, in commercial and investment arbitrations related to telecommunications, construction industry, banking, energy, electricity, cartography and satellite, safe services. His arbitration practice has been developed in a wide range of jurisdictions, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, Perú and the United States. He is member of the Court at ICC.
How has your arbitration practice evolved over time?
Initially I worked exclusively as a counsel in international arbitrations, with almost all of them related to telecommunications. For many years I continued being involved as a counsel but incorporating new areas and economic sectors, such as construction, energy and corporate matters. Over the years I began to be appointed as an arbitrator in different institutions, which is what allowed me to focus on what is truly important in a case and showed me how not to give unnecessary battles to what really does not help to solve the case. Today I am dedicated to both roles, half the time counsel, half time arbitrator and enjoy practicing both.
In your opinion, what is the most essential skill for an arbitration lawyer to be successful?
Preparation and planning. All arbitrations are different, and almost all of them involve complex issues. An arbitration lawyer must know how to prepare and thus be ready for anything that may occur in the arbitration proceeding. Another important skill is the ability to present the case before the arbitrators, as simple as possible, even in extremely complex cases. And finally, you have to understand that although you have to do your best to represent the interests of a client, the counsels who represent the other party are not your enemies, but are simply trying to do exactly the same for their client, therefore courtesy and professional ethics must always be in place.
As a practitioner experienced with half a dozen arbitration institutions including the ICC, AAA and CANACO, how do you adapt your practice to these different regimes?
It is a very frequent mistake that arbitrators or counsels do not take the time to carefully analyse the different arbitration regulations and the different arbitration laws in each country. It is true that there are many similarities, but it is also true that there are important differences and that you have to adapt to them. Before starting an institutional arbitration, as a counsel or as an arbitrator, this in-depth analysis is essential.
What are the advantages of ad-hoc proceedings as opposed to proceedings governed by an arbitration institution?
Personally, I prefer institutional arbitrations. It is hard for me to find any advantage in ad-hoc arbitrations. For me, the certainty of institutional regulation and the support provided by the administering institution, is essential. Having said that, ad-hoc arbitrations could provide a little more flexibility in some cases.
You are regarded as an international leader in arbitration, especially in the Latin American market. To what do you attribute this reputation, and how would you advise new practitioners build such a respected practice?
Study, patience and presence. First of all, positioning yourself in a market as competitive as international arbitration is, implies continuous study and learning from other practices and experiences. Second, you have to understand that reputation is a “slow-cooking dish” and that there are no shortcuts, so you have to have a good dose of patience and perseverance. And third, anyone who wants to pursue a career in this area, should try to maintain an active presence at academic events that take place all over the world; knowing there is a need to invest, not only money, but also time.
In what ways are ICSID’s new arbitration rules affecting investor-state arbitration proceedings?
It is still too early to make a proper diagnosis. But the ICSID initiative seems to be on the right track and seems to provide an adequate response to some of the main critics that were made of investment arbitration in general.
How does Novis Estudio Legal distinguish itself from competitors in the market?
In Novis Estudio Legal we understand that arbitration emerges as a natural mechanism to solve most of the disputes that arise over the course of commercial transactions, since it facilitates being heard by subject-matter specialists, it substantially cuts down on the time required to reach a decision, it encourages the use of technologies, and it enables adaptation to the circumstances of the specific dispute. We also understand that this is also the case with other mechanisms that may be used even prior to arbitration, such as mediation, settlements, direct arrangements, and dispute boards. In addition, we provide consultancy on the structuring of protection mechanisms for foreign investment, in accordance with investment treaties and Central American integration treaties. We are a law firm that is sensitive to our new reality, with a service offering focused, comprehensive, streamlined, and ethical services provided at competitive costs. Our emphasis is placed on the prevention of conflicts and the defense of the rule of law.
What advice would you give a younger practitioner hoping to one day be in your position?
To study hard. To get involved in youth groups from institutions such as ICC, CEA, ALARB, ITA and many others, where interesting exchanges of knowledge and experiences take place, and where there are excellent opportunities to meet other professionals and form future relationships.