Weber-Stecher Arbitration • Mediation
Peers and clients say:
"He is really engaged in his work and stands out in this community"
"He has excellent judgement"
"Urs is a great arbitrator"
"The godfather of arbitration in Switzerland"
Urs Weber-Stecher is an independent arbitrator and mediator. He has more than 25 years’ experience in international dispute resolution. In more recent years, he extended his practice from international arbitration to commercial mediation. His practice includes a broad variety of legal areas in a wide range of industries. He was a lecturer in international arbitration at the University of Zurich from 2001 until 2022. He is a member of the board of the Swiss Arbitration Association and serves as vice-president and lecturer of the Swiss Arbitration Academy.
What do you enjoy the most about your role as an arbitrator?
Contributing to the resolution of conflicts has been an important concern of mine ever since I decided to study law. What I particularly like about the role of an arbitrator is that I can contribute my share to the functioning of international business and trade. Without cross-border dispute resolution mechanisms, international business transactions and projects would not be possible.
I am particularly interested in the intercultural aspects of disputes between parties from different countries and continents. In such disputes, it is often not enough to merely apply legal norms in a formalistic manner. Appropriate consideration of cultural peculiarities can be particularly challenging but also exciting. This is even more true for international mediations.
What challenges are posed by international arbitrations involving ESG matters?
ESG is being driven by rapidly changing values and significant regulatory developments. ESG disclosure is becoming a significant obligation for companies worldwide, as the European Union recently adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). ESG has already significantly influenced the litigation and investment arbitration landscape. An example is the lawsuit against Holcim initiated in July last year in Zug, Switzerland, by four residents of Pari Island in Indonesia.
Low-emission and climate-resilient projects and programmes that contribute to countries' climate change priorities under the Paris Agreement are becoming more prevalent. Accordingly, contracts (with arbitration clauses) are being concluded to adapt to a warming climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. financing and licensing renewable energy, closing down non-renewable power plants, adapting existing buildings and infrastructure to changing circumstances.
Does your experience in diplomacy and foreign affairs enhance your practice? How?
I am convinced that it has helped me considerably in my work as a dispute resolution lawyer in international cases. The peculiarities that other cultures entail were, of course, also of great importance in my work for the Swiss office for foreign economic affairs in the late nineties. You had to develop a sense of when it was worth negotiating hard and when it was time to give in. This is also of eminent importance in arbitrations and mediations.
From your vantage point in the market, in which industries is the arbitration practice growing the quickest and why?
Against the backdrop of the considerations written under question two, I think that we will see more arbitration proceedings especially in those industries for which ESG aspects are of prime relevance. This certainly includes all industries that are heavily dependent on natural resources or deal in raw materials, and those that have production facilities in low-wage countries; but also industries that depend on well-functioning international supply chains.
Another area where I believe arbitration will become increasingly important is the crypto industry. The favourable climate for the booming industry began to deteriorate rapidly in early 2022. I therefore expect more disputes related to cryptocurrencies.
What impact do you think the Swiss Arbitration Centre’s new Supplemental Swiss Rules for Corporate Law Disputes (Supplemental Swiss Rules) have in the market?
On 1 January 2023, the new Art. 697n of the Swiss Code of Obligations ("CO") entered into force, expressly allowing Swiss joint stock companies to include in their articles of association an arbitration clause providing for corporate law disputes to be settled by an arbitral tribunal seated in Switzerland. Based on this new legislation the Swiss Arbitration Centre has issued the Supplemental Swiss Rules for Corporate Law Disputes, which supplement the Swiss Rules and are specifically tailored to corporate law disputes, and an explanatory note providing useful guidance.
Because all the specific advantages of arbitration, such as expertise of the arbitrators, efficiency, confidentiality and flexibility, also extend to proceedings on corporate law issues, I expect that in the future many articles of association will contain an arbitration clause and that we will see more arbitration cases on corporate law issues in practice.
What are the pros and cons of the increasing "boutiquisation" of the international arbitration market?
My perception is that the "real" independence of arbitrators is becoming increasingly important and that this can ultimately almost only be guaranteed by independent arbitrators who are not integrated in a larger law firm structure. This seems less important to me for the work as counsel in arbitration proceedings. One disadvantage I see in "boutiquisation" is that younger colleagues do not have the opportunity to work in teams from other areas of law in order to acquire know-how there that could be useful to them later in arbitration proceedings.
What goals have you set for the next few years?
I want to continue my arbitration practice as before and offer high quality arbitration services and become even more international in terms of world regions and arbitral institutions. For example, I would like to conduct more proceedings related to Asia, especially in jurisdictions based on the civil law tradition, but of course also in Singapore and Hong Kong.
And what I already mentioned last year: I would like to further expand my practice as a commercial mediator. There is still a lot of "development work" to do in this area in Western Europe.