We recently spoke with Scott Andersen, senior counsel in Geneva, whose practice focuses on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules in international trade disputes. He discussed the business landscape in Switzerland and how the firm has cemented its reputation for excellence there.
Do you recall what first attracted you to Sidley?
Yes, I do. At the time I joined the firm, the World Trade Organization was only a few years old. I was a legal advisor to the U.S. Mission to the WTO in Geneva from 1995-2000. Andy Shoyer, now co-chair of the firm’s Global Arbitration, Trade and Advocacy practice in Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office, and I, were the first two United States Trade Representative lawyers in Geneva. Andy held that post until 1997, when he joined the predecessor firm to Sidley, and I stayed on at USTR for three additional years. Meanwhile, Todd Friedbacher was litigating WTO cases from the Washington office. I met Todd on the opposite side of one of those cases. He frequently likes to point out that his side was successful in that dispute [[laughs]].
So I was basically hired by my former USTR colleagues. I used to joke with them after they all abandoned me at USTR by saying, “Save me a seat.” In 2000, Dan Price, who now has his own firm but had founded what is now Sidley's International Trade & Dispute Resolution group, together with Andy, showed up in Geneva one day and said, “It’s time to go out to dinner.” And, essentially they said, “Alright, we have your seat. We would like you to open Sidley’s Geneva office with Todd.” So that’s what we did. We were the first law firm to dedicate an office in Geneva to World Trade Organization litigation and policy. At that point, I had been working on trade-related positions with USTR and USITC for 10 years and was ready for the challenge of the private sector.
Was it a huge cultural move to go from government to Sidley’s practice?
I suppose, like many government employees moving to the private sector, I was a little nervous about whether I would actually secure clients. Both Dan and Andy assured me that I would have no problem. I was much more skeptical than that [[laughs]]. As it turned out, Todd and I, working with the whole Sidley team in Brussels and Washington, were able to secure a number of clients over the years and have been very successful. That success was further enhanced when Nick Lockhart, a partner in the firm’s International Trade group, joined us in 2005.
I should point out here that we have always worked seamlessly with Sidley’s Washington and Brussels offices. Andy, in particular, was crucial to the development and success of our WTO practice in Geneva by feeding us work, particularly in the Geneva office’s formative years. We also, from time to time, work with lawyers in London and Beijing on WTO matters.
Can you remember a moment or event after opening the office that made you say, “Okay, this is really gelling?”
Yes, definitely; it was when we got two pivotal matters. The first was when we secured and litigated the Cotton case for Brazil against the U.S. It is one of the most famous WTO cases and is a case study at the Harvard Business School. Todd and I, along with Christian Lau, were the chief lawyers on what became the first successful challenge to highly trade-distorting, actionable, and prohibited agricultural subsidies under the WTO. It was the first time that a developing country had taken on a major subsidy program of a developed country to demonstrate that those subsidies were hurting developed country farmers. We won repeated rounds of that case, which just now ended with the U.S. paying the Brazilian Cotton producers $750 million. So, yes, this case really helped put our WTO practice in Geneva on the international trade map.
The other case that helped make us the leading practice in Geneva was our work for Airbus, Europe’s aircraft manufacturer. The history of the subsidies fight between Airbus and Boeing is now in its second decade with each manufacturer and their respective governments accusing the other of providing and receiving unfair trade subsidies. We have been very busy managing that litigation from Geneva, which has involved lawyers from our office, Washington and Brussels.
So those two matters were the most important cases, and combined with the many WTO cases managed by Andy and his team in Washington, our practice took off from there. We received a six-year contract to be exclusive WTO counsel for Brazil and we did a lot of work for them. We brought high-profile cases for countries such as Norway, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Japan and Brazil. We started working for China in 2009, and since then, have worked on a number of disputes and other matters for them. This is thanks to the support of our colleagues in Washington, some of whom because of business conflicts, gave up bringing cases against China.
Most recently, we have again teamed up with Andy, as well as Arnoud Willems, to secure the first WTO representation of Russia in the WTO. Russia joined the WTO in 2012 and is just now going through its first WTO dispute. Andy, Arnoud and I, spent a lot of time over the past several years trying to develop Russian government and industry trade business. This work is beginning to pay off, and we expect to secure additional work representing the Russian Federation and its business interests on trade-related matters in the years to come.
Sidley has been a trailblazer in many ways in Geneva. How does the firm distinguish itself on the landscape today?
This is going to sound like a cliché, but the reality is, we have an impeccable reputation for the quality of our work. There is literally a “Sidley-type” brief recognized by the WTO Secretariat and WTO Appellate Body. Clients know that we are the go-to firm in Geneva for difficult and complex cases. We have by far the largest WTO operation here in Geneva. When you add Marc Palay’s International Commercial Arbitration group with us, together with our growing life sciences team, we are now about 40 professionals – up from only two in 2000. So we have grown a lot over the past 14 years.
What are some of the things the office will focus on in the future?
A key goal is to continue to grow our International Commercial Arbitration practice, which Marc Palay, along with partners Tanya Landon and David Roney, have done a great job of building. We want to maintain the number one position we have in WTO practice. We are also moving into life sciences work with Mike Beckers, an associate who just moved from Brussels to Geneva. Mike has been successfully developing life sciences client work here in Switzerland and the rest of Europe, working closely with Sidley’s life sciences team in Brussels and the U.S. We are focusing on biotech and pharma companies, as well as medical device manufacturers. A lot of them are in Switzerland, which is a very high-tech type of environment.
We have also begun to do bank-related work and recently represented banks being investigated by the Justice department. Tom Green, a senior partner who is in Washington, has been working with our team in representing Swiss banks being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. We are also starting to move into data protection issues with companies located in Europe and in Switzerland. In addition, we now have three Swiss-qualified lawyers and can handle some areas of Swiss law. However, due to the Swiss bar rules, we are not allowed to litigate Swiss cases in Swiss courts. That has not prevented us from doing a fair amount of Swiss advisory and law-related work. So, while we continue to be focused primarily on trade and arbitration work, the partners here are quite keen to expand our platform.
So we have come a long way from just two of us in 2000 -- wishing and hoping to develop WTO dispute settlement litigation. We have been lucky enough to be able to expand the footprint of the firm. Our colleagues at Sidley, and members of the Management Committee, have been great in allowing us to grow like that and to give us the resources we needed.
Talk a little about the innovative Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program, which you co-founded in 2012 and manage out of Geneva.
There is a huge need for high-quality legal services for small and mid-sized businesses and NGO organizations working in the agricultural supply chain in Africa and poorer parts of Asia. Such services can improve the incomes and livelihoods of poor rural African, mostly women, farmers. The development experts we collaborate with recognize that effective legal services can really grow and make sustainable these businesses. We have a full-time director of the program, Ronalee Biasca, who is a development expert. I spend about 20-25 percent of my time on managing the program. We just hired two coordinators, one from the Caribbean and one from Ghana, who are helping with administrative and client development work.
While the epicenter of the management of the pro bono program is here in Geneva, the lawyers working for our 60 or so clients are all over the world. We have several lawyers in Geneva working on projects but there are 240 other lawyers from 16 different offices making significant contributions to the program. In the long run, that program will definitely help us develop business in Africa and Asia. We may well become known one of the international firms that really understands and can work in Africa and Asia. Those markets are growing rapidly and are going to continue to expand in the next 10 to 20 years. By then, we will have cultivated lawyers who know a lot about the regulatory landscape in Africa because of the program. That kind of knowledge will help our clients and it will also help further the development of that part of the world.
Back when you were in college, did you always know there would be that international component to your work and life?
Yes. By the time I entered law school, I had already spent six months hitchhiking around Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. I’d spent six months in London, and another two months traveling all over Europe. Being an international lawyer is what I wanted to do -- but I did not know how to get there right away. I tell law students all the time, “Look, you may well not get your dream job right away, but what you can do is get a job that will allow you to hone your skills and become a great writer, analytical thinker, problem-solver and oral advocate. If you can find a job that will allow you to develop those skills, then you can then take them with you anywhere.” I was lucky enough to be able to get my dream job about 15 years into my career and to have kept it going ever since.
Over the years, we haven’t just helped clients comply with the law or anticipate changes to law—we have also been at the table shaping those laws.
When I graduated from law school, the WTO didn’t even exist. In fact, after I had been a U.S. litigator for 15 years, the WTO still didn’t exist! World trade law hardly existed. There were only a very few GATT cases. There was no binding dispute settlement for international trade disputes. It wasn’t even a practice area. In many ways, Sidley lawyers have been instrumental and at the forefront of creating a whole new legal practice area of WTO litigation. There are now almost 500 WTO disputes and hundreds of thousands of pages of jurisprudence. No other firm can make the claim that it has contributed so much to developing that jurisprudence.
While Andy Shoyer was working at USTR, he helped negotiate the WTO dispute settlement procedures even before the WTO came into existence. These rules are now used by lawyers and diplomats all over the world. Andy was the U.S. representative for the negotiation of these dispute settlement procedures. And I have been lucky enough to learn from him when we were together at USTR.
You have been with the Geneva office for 15 years. Talk a bit about what makes it special.
We have 20 different nationalities among our 45 colleagues. I suspect there is no other Sidley office that has that kind of diversity. We are really proud of that. It’s part of our genetic makeup. It makes us all world citizens first, and then we talk about our particular nationality. I just introduced our newest employee at the staff meeting today -- the new coordinator for the pro bono program from Ghana. I said, “We’re delighted to have you here for what you will do for the pro bono program, and we also very pleased to be able to add another country to our list!” We all learn from each other and I think it helps all of us relate to our very diverse Geneva client base.
Also, everybody knows everyone in the office. It’s a bit like a small town. We have a combined staff meeting every Tuesday, where the whole office gets together. We all report on what we are doing -- that includes life sciences, commercial arbitration, WTO and WTO policy and customs, data protection, and lobbying the World Health Organization. And the whole office gets together for a free lunch on Thursdays. We have Happy Hour together on Fridays, great summer parties and we’re planning our ski outing to take in all that snow you can now see from our offices. We have been able to retain that small firm feeling here.