Peers and clients say:
"Pierre Tercier is one of the stars of the Swiss arbitration market"
"Pierre is the father of international arbitration in Switzerland"
"Mr Tercier is a leading figure in the arbitration field"
Pierre Tercier is an emeritus professor of the University of Fribourg, the honorary chairman of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and a prominent international arbitrator with extensive international arbitration and dispute resolution experience. He is a visiting professor of law at numerous universities around the world. He graduated from the University of Fribourg summa cum laude and was admitted to the bar in 1969. He recently joined the law firm Peter & Kim as senior counsel.
What motivated you to pursue a career in arbitration?
I started my career in arbitration when I was teaching full time at the University of Fribourg. It allowed me to complement theory with practice. After my retirement, I was appointed as chairman of the ICC International Court of Arbitration. I pursued a career as an independent arbitrator and recently joined Peter & Kim as senior counsel. This latest step allows me to remain present in the world of arbitration at the highest level. It also offers me the opportunity to meet outstanding people and deal with very interesting matters.
How has the role of arbitrator changed since you started your career?
The role of arbitrator has indeed changed drastically since the beginning of my career. When I started, it was still possible for an arbitrator to master a case without too many difficulties. The cases were less complex, the submissions were shorter and less detailed, and the hearings were more straightforward. Things have changed because of the professionalisation, but also because of the new challenges posed by the evolution of technology. As arbitrators have to deal with increasingly complex cases, experts play a fundamental role in the proceedings nowadays. There is a clear imbalance between counsel and their teams on the one side, and arbitrators on the other.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case you have been a part of?
It is always difficult to choose one, as I have been involved in a number of very interesting cases. The most famous case was probably Abaclat. I replaced Robert Briner as chairman and continued the proceedings with 180,000 claimants. The majority of the arbitral tribunal has accepted jurisdiction and we were about to render the award when the parties decided to settle the case amicably. But I had many other interesting cases in very different industries, some of which were more challenging and stimulating than others. My memories of cases tend to also depend a lot on the qualities of the people I worked with.
How have the new ICC rules impacted commercial arbitration practice?
The new rules certainly have a great impact on the practice. The new rules reduced the court’s and Secretariat’s involvement in the initial stages of a case, while at the same time maintaining their extremely important role in the proceedings overall. Another important change concerns multi-party arbitration. Finally, the new rules expand the tools available for accelerating proceedings. This trend already existed in the court’s practice and sometimes involved putting pressure on the tribunal.
Could the rise of virtual hearings lead to a greater mixing of different legal systems and arbitration institutions?
This is a difficult question. Over the past two years, I had to conduct several virtual hearings, only returning to in-person hearings recently. In my experience, virtual communication may not always be as conducive to cross-fertilisation between lawyers from different legal systems as in-person hearings. For some aspects of the proceedings, such as case management conferences, however, virtual formats can be very efficient.
To what extent has the international arbitration community met the challenge of improving diversity in recent years?
Looking at the online lists of arbitrators, I see more and more young people from different parts of the world. It is a pleasure to see among them many excellent young people with whom I had the pleasure to work. Concerning the gender, I also see some improvement, although there is certainly room for more. I personally supported the Delos initiative for diversity, which hopefully will allow us to take further steps in this direction.
What are the key qualities that make for a successful arbitrator?
There are of course different key qualities, depending on the role of the arbitrator (president, co-arbitrator or sole arbitrator), on the legal culture, and on the nature of the case. The president in particular must be able to conduct the case in an efficient way, but must also ensure that the rights of the parties are respected. On the merits, I like to quote Wolfgang Goethe: “Talking is a need, listening is an art.” Indeed, an arbitrator should first be able to listen to the presentation of the case without any prejudgement, and then to decide in a fair way.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
Since I am at the age when people think about reducing their activities, I have decided to pursue the cases I have with the same enthusiasm but also to reduce the number of cases in which I might be appointed. At the same time, I still wish to learn about new industries, pass my experience to the next generation of arbitration lawyers and support Peter & Kim in its continuing growth.