Catrice Gayer is an international dispute resolution specialist and partner based in our Düsseldorf office, Germany. Catrice has broad experience as counsel in national and international arbitration proceedings and her particular fields of specialisation are construction/infrastructure, manufacturing/engineering, energy, TMT, commercial (agency, distribution, international sale) and corporate including post-M&A disputes. She also sits as an arbitrator. She was promoted to the partnership on 1 May 2023.
You joined HSF in 2016. What attracted you to the firm?
Before I joined HSF, I was working at a German law firm. A lot of the work I was doing was international arbitration, and the cases were truly international: in the nearly eight years I worked there, not a single international arbitration case I worked on was in German. I was drawn to HSF due to its reputation as a global arbitration powerhouse. It was also a great opportunity to build the German disputes practice at the firm. At the time I joined, the Frankfurt office had been open for a couple of years but I was one of the first disputes lawyers in the Düsseldorf office, which was very exciting and a great opportunity for me.
You have a broad practice, spanning cross-border litigation and arbitration, with a focus on construction/ infrastructure and manufacturing/ engineering. What kind of disputes are you seeing?
As I work in the construction, manufacturing and engineering sectors, I tend to deal with high-value projects that have gone wrong – whether that is a significant delay, unmet specifications, one or often hundreds of defects or a dispute about the cost of the project. Over the years, the projects I have worked on have become increasingly sophisticated and innovative: they are often the first of their kind, particularly in the renewable energy, manufacturing, and transport sectors, which are constantly evolving at a rapid pace. As these projects are often high value, this means that the stakes are high when things go wrong.
In construction/infrastructure cases, I tend to work for the employer, contractor, subcontractors and other players involved; so I'm used to seeing every side of the story. As the disputes I work on often revolve around sophisticated technical questions, they involve experienced experts, be it on technical, delay or quantum issues. Their input and working efficiently and closely with them is vital to informing the case strategy.
Arbitration has already played an important role in Germany, and there is an ongoing project to modernise the country's arbitration law. What changes do you expect to see in future?
Germany's arbitration law, the current "German Arbitration Act" is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law and so it provides a very robust framework. Germany is also a very pro-arbitration jurisdiction – there are very few cases where the courts have set aside or refused enforcement of an award in commercial arbitrations (and if they have, it will have been for very good reasons).
I think that Germany has previously undersold itself as an arbitral seat and should be up there with London, Paris and Geneva as a popular choice of seat. We have lots of excellent arbitrators, counsel and technical expertise. The German Arbitration Institute (DIS) also revised its rules in 2018 with the aim of reducing time and costs for users. It is a modern set of rules which include provisions aimed at streamlining proceedings, such as giving a preliminary assessment of the case at an early stage (if both parties agree). I would expect Germany to grow as an arbitration hub in the coming years and would hope that it could start to rival some of the other major arbitration hubs.
Do you notice any difference in approach between German lawyers who are civil-law trained and your colleagues from other jurisdictions?
One great thing about working at a global law firm is that I get to work with colleagues from lots of different backgrounds. I really admire the advocacy skills of my English-qualified colleagues – whether in their written submissions or cross-examination. This is something that I learn from and try to mirror in my practice.
In international arbitration cases, the difference is less about whether you are civil or common-law trained. Often, the different practices and the "best of all possible worlds" have merged. But an approach that is very important to me in my daily practice is – for the right cases – that we focus on adopting an early case strategy and front-loading the evidence, rather than keeping our power dry. For example, we tend to instruct experts at a very early stage in order to identify the difficult technical questions and weaknesses in the case. Further, we plead our case in as much detail as possible in the first round of submissions. There have been many cases where we have successfully achieved a settlement by adopting this strategy.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
I love learning new things and drilling down into the detail – whether that's how a power plant or a steel mill works, how to produce energy in the most emission-free way or how trains, aeroplanes and e-buses move. But also, I enjoy identifying the overall case strategy and working as a team. And finally (and possibly unusually for a lawyer!) I am also a big fan of numbers, so I enjoy analysing the figures to find holes in the other side's case.
What do you do when you are not helping clients resolve their disputes?
I love visiting new places, spending time with family and friends, and a range of different sports. I sometimes also like sleeping!