Stefan Leimgruber is a favourite among peers and clients alike, who describe him as "an extremely thorough dispute strategist".
Stefan Leimgruber is a partner in Schellenberg Wittmer's dispute resolution group. He represents clients in commercial disputes before state courts and arbitral tribunals, with a particular focus on disputes in the financial industry, post-M&A and corporate litigation, interim measures and enforcement of foreign judgments and awards. He also sits as an arbitrator.
What attracted you to specialise as a litigator?
After four years as a clerk and judge at the Zurich District Court, moving on to become a litigator felt like a natural development. I was always impressed by the variety of matters a commercial litigator deals with. At the same time, it was fairly obvious that, while all litigators may have the same tools in their toolbox, some used these tools very effectively, but others did not. More than 15 years later, I still love the daily challenge of finding the right strategy and solution in each setting, no matter how unusual the case may be.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable dispute you have been a part of, and why?
There have been so many. Every case has its own characteristics, challenges, and its own story. One of the first memorable moments was a meeting in preparation of a major hearing in Geneva, only a few weeks after I had joined Schellenberg Wittmer as an associate. One shareholder had sued his fellow shareholders after having been expelled from a JV company in the Middle East. Counsel to the respondents from India, the US, Kuwait and Switzerland gathered around a heavy oak table to discuss strategy and legal issues under all applicable laws. After my time at the district court, going at a comparably local and gentle pace, I found myself, all at once, in the midst of international dispute resolution.
What are the greatest challenges posed to practitioners in banking, finance and post-M&A disputes, and how can they be effectively addressed?
As in other fields, it is key to keep up with new developments in these industries. We are working closely with our corporate, banking and regulatory teams to understand trends and client's needs both in traditional and developing fields, such as FinTech, blockchain and the crypto industry.
How is technology changing the way litigation proceedings are carried out?
There are various stages in litigation up to judgment. The way we manage cases and work with clients, i.e. communication, fact gathering, legal assessment, etc. has considerably changed in recent years. It has become faster and, in many respects, more efficient. Swiss court proceedings, on the other hand, have not (yet) changed much – apart from the fact that the electronic filing of court submission now spares us the occasional late-night sprints to the post office.
What makes Schellenberg Wittmer stand out from its competitors in the litigation market?
We have traditionally been the firm with the most pronounced focus on dispute resolution among the leading full-service law firms in Switzerland. With our presence in Zurich and Geneva, we represent clients in courts all over Switzerland, while our office in Singapore offers an additional gateway to the international arbitration market. Disputes play a central role not only in our litigation and arbitration departments, but in many other practice groups (such as IP, private wealth, competition, and ESG), in our internal education and in how we build and expand our international reach and network.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a commercial litigator?
Be convincing, not loud. Master the facts, take the time to develop the right strategy and a consistent line of arguments – there may be a simple answer that is not obvious at first. Take ownership of the case. And learn to tell your client's story in a way that will captivate the court; lengthy and boring submissions hardly ever win cases (I believe).