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“Those who settled their disputes during the pandemic prospered the most,” Hemann Knott on keeping friends close with international mediation.


Picture of Dawid Wiktor

Hemann Knott on keeping friends close with international mediation.

To give you a taste of GIDI and SCLA’s hotly anticipated International Mediator Leadership Training Programme in Chengdu, we spoke to one of the lecturers about his wisdom and experience, Dr jur. Hermann J. Knott LL.M. (UPenn), partner at Kunz Rechtsanwälte.

We’re very excited that you will be teaching how to become a better mediator in the GIDI and SCLA training programme, Dr Knott. Can you begin by telling us about yourself and your experience of international mediation?

Hermann Knott: I’m a German lawyer and I’m also admitted in New York. I studied law in Cologne and the US and Geneva, with Pierre Lalive – a father of international mediation – and then later the University of Pennsylvania, University of Philadelphia, and Stanford Law School. Then I worked in New York with the firm Cleary Gottlieb when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. So, my work has always been international.

Then I was a corporate litigator before returning to arbitration and mediation in the mid-2010s with a large case at SIAC, in Singapore, between a Swiss and a Malaysian company which brought all imaginable issues of arbitration into play.

The case ran between 2014 and 2017 and there I learnt about the value of mediation because we had a three-year arbitration, but we were not able to enforce the arbitration award because the defendant was basically bankrupt. There’d been three years of costs for an award that couldn’t be enforced. Why not be more productive and use mediation? And from thereon I started being active and interested in mediation.

We always distinguish between transactional lawyers and dispute lawyers, but in effect they’re related. Because when do you prevent disputes? When you draft contracts! You anticipate disputes and therefore provide for contractual clauses to avoid them. And that’s why I think mediation is so important. It’s really the centre point between litigation and arbitration on the one hand, and contract drafting on the other.

How would you say mediation is distinct from other ADR methods?

HK: Mediation is the most flexible option available for resolving disputes or controversies, because it can chime in at any point. It can chime in during a litigation, if the judge says “don’t you want to consider settling the case?”, as the settlement process is basically mediation. You also have the whole discussion around Arb-Med-Arb, where you see how you move from arbitration to mediation, and Singapore has been one of the most prominent centres in offering a solution to this with both the SIAC – the arbitration institute – and the SIMC – the mediation institute. So, you see that mediation is always the most flexible element in negotiations and resolving disputes.

How do you evaluate mediation from an international commercial perspective?

HK: Its value has never been higher. Because supply chains were interrupted by Covid, causing many businesses to have disputes over force majeure, the pandemic has shown how important it is to maintain relations and to not break them through controversial adversary procedures. Mediation helps you to maintain relations even when disputes arise. If you always move to adversary procedures, we have no friends and no business. Those who settled their disputes during the pandemic prospered the most.

How can relations between China and Europe benefit from mediation?

HK: Mediation can make a tremendous contribution to business relationships and it can be a role-model for others involved in Sino-European relations. Mediation has a very strong cultural background in China and both China and Europe have a long-standing mutual history and relationship.

If we use mediation in business, it’s also a fantastic basis for the political field, cultural field, and the general economic field. I think we would be contributing tremendously to a new basis or a better basis for these relationships. It strengthens listening and understanding skills, and the way we communicate.

What can being a qualified mediator at GIDI contribute to a lawyer’s international career?

HK: A GIDI certification is a rare opportunity that really provides a cross-cultural training to give you an open ear and sensitivity to the nature of the dispute, because mediation is cross-cultural, and about understanding the people related to the concrete dispute at hand.

No one is better equipped to do this than GIDI with its purely international background and strong involvement with Chinese parties and parties from other jurisdictions and cultural backgrounds. There are very few institutions that would allow a training that is as cross-culture oriented as GIDI.

What is your message to the participants at our training programme?

HK: I can only give my warmest encouragement to participate in this training, because it’s a rare opportunity to work and train and reflect on real-life dispute situations against a cross-cultural background. The panellists, lecturers and attendants will have a great working groups. It will not be so much instructive as an exchange, with case studies and a practical orientation.

Thank you, Dr Knott! We look forward to hearing you develop these themes in your lectures at the training programme.

If you have enjoyed these insights of how mediation is changing how we do business and want to learn how you can join the next GIDI and SCLA International Mediator Leadership Training Programme, follow this link.