Peers and clients say:
"Olivier shows an exceptional knowledge of arbitration law"
"He is excellent in oral submissions"
"Mr Caprasse is an absolutely fabulous arbitration lawyer"
For over 20 years, Olivier Caprasse (born 1972, Belgium) has been involved in arbitration (commercial and investment) as an arbitrator, counsel and academic. He has sat (co-arbitrator, chairman or sole arbitrator) in a great variety of sectors. He is a member of the Brussels Bar, a professor at the Universities of Liège and Brussels, and a member of the ICC Court since 2016. Fluent in English and French, he has a good command of Dutch.
What inspired you to specialise in arbitration practice?
Arbitration is one of the rare legal fields where you can interact with people from all over the world. There might be different concepts, and procedural requirements, but there is always room for discussion for improvement, benefitted by a variety of experiences, traditions, and cultures. Fundamentally, it was also the desire to be able, as arbitrator, to contribute to the resolution of disputes and help international actors in that respect.
Could the rise of virtual hearings lead to a greater mixing of different legal systems and arbitration institutions?
Remote hearings are only a tool (which can be efficient) but I think that room for flexibility with respect to references to different legal systems and institutions has always been present. Let us say that remote hearings, conferences, meetings have reinforced that trend and rendered the world smaller than it was before.
You are a co-founder of CEPANI 40. What are the goals of the organisation and how has it enhanced your practice?
Our goal with the creation of this Belgian below forty organisation was to try help young arbitration practitioners to meet, develop their knowledge in a less formal arena and increase the sharing of knowledge between generations.
Now that I have turned 50, I see with happiness how this contributed to help new generations to enter the arbitral community and develop their passion for arbitration.
On a personal level, being co-founder and co-chair of that organisation helped me to broaden my network in Belgium and abroad with our sister organisations. I see with great satisfaction that this work has continued with more and more success under the leadership of the successive co-chairs who came afterwards.
What do you enjoy most about practising as an arbitration specialist?
I like trying to find the best path to conduct the arbitration, accounting for the input of the parties. Having to understand the parties’ respective expectations, trying to combine empathy with authority, not being afraid of taking decisions, are fascinating challenges (and all the more so in an international context). On top of that, I always like discovering new sectors or industries, the way they function and the stakes present. In sum, I enjoy the mix of law, facts and management, in an environment where, at the end of the day, be the actors big or small, you always find human beings.
In what ways does Caprasse Arbitration distinguish itself from competitors in the market?
I would simply say that the reason at the basis of the creation of Caprasse Arbitration was to avoid to the maximum conflicts of interest as an arbitrator and benefit from complete flexibility as counsel, a role that I assume more rarely and always with other law firms. All that with the idea of being as available and responsive as possible.
How does your role as a professor enhance your work in private practice?
I did my PhD on corporate law and arbitration (Bruylant, L.G.D.J, 2002). In itself, this led me to make my first steps in the arbitration world. More than twenty years of teaching and researching in arbitration further helped me concretely in my practice having had to study many different issues. Finally, being a professor implies having a true independence of mind, which is also an important quality for arbitrators and is valued as such by the market.
Practitioners report a marked increase in international mediation, even when there are arbitration clauses in contracts, due to cash-strapped businesses seeking early settlement. Is there a danger arbitration could take a back seat to mediation?
I have always considered that neither arbitration or mediation constitute panacea, so I would not speak about ‘danger’. Panacea is having the choice and sometimes to combine different ADR techniques in a dispute, which I have experienced several times. That said, there are and will always be disputes where parties do need or desire a decision, or are simply not able to find amicable settlements. Practice shows that arbitration is not declining, quite on the contrary in certain sectors.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
To have been appointed chair of arbitral panels in important cases by co-arbitrators with extraordinary experiences, and whose work and legal papers had inspired me when I was a PhD researcher.