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“I take pride in giving each of my clients’ attention to the point of devotion; no client is more important than another.”

The lessons of an international lawyer

The lessons of an international lawyer


Ralph Oswald Isenegger shares the lessons he has learned from managing high-profile international cases

I have always found it important to reflect on my time. Day by day, case by case, it is vital to continue to learn, to build on what has been achieved and improve on anything possible.

I have worked on a great variety of cases in different countries and areas of law, and I can confidently say that while no two cases have been the same, there are often lessons that can be taken forward.

This has been true since the dawn of my career, from my first case in 1991, fresh from the University of Geneva, working alongside the Attorney General Bernard Bertossa, to today, leading a strategic consultancy firm in Dubai and advising on cases of vast magnitude under the inquisitive eye of the world’s media.

One of those lessons, which I will happily impart to any young lawyer, is that of commitment. I take pride in giving each of my clients’ attention to the point of devotion; no client is more important than another. Whether you are dealing with a small quibble easily solved or a case involving human rights violations and spanning multiple countries and jurisdictions, it is crucial that, as a client’s trusted representative, you dedicate yourself to them.

A corollary to that is never to make assumptions about a client or their concerns. It is rare to find easy solutions to difficult cases but every argument, no matter how big or small, must be properly scrutinised. As such, as a diligent professional, preparation is key to mitigate against the inevitable setbacks that crop up over the course of any lawyer’s working week.

I would refer to my experience providing strategic guidance in extraordinarily complex legal and multi-territorial legal cases that may involve multiple jurisdictions at one time, sometimes even mixing the Anglo-Saxon and continental systems, to emphasize the importance of strategic thinking when preparing for a new case.

My main areas of work are international criminal law, extradition, sanctions, human rights law, assets freezing and recovery laws. All my cases require resilience and strategic thinking and over the years I have learned that in law there are no dead ends, just parallel paths. It’s important to bear this in mind, just like when you are playing chess. Indeed, there are always creative solutions to seemingly difficult problems.

Over my career, I have worked on – and won – several high-profile cases, and each requires determination and an open mind. From age 29, I led the defence team of Sergei Mikhailov, as his only Russian-speaking lawyer. As one of the few Russian-speaking Western lawyers in extradition, sanction and criminal matters, I worked on other major cases in extradition and international criminal law, from Pavel Borodin almost 20 years ago, until now, when I am focused on the defense Ukrainian entrepreneur Dmitry Firtash. In this case, I am leading several teams of lawyers in a fight of almost 8 years against the politically motivated extradition request made by the United States government.

Another lesson I like to emphasise is the importance of attorney-client privilege. Dating back to the sixteenth century, the attorney-client privilege is the oldest of the privileges in an attorney-client relationship. Its implementation enables our clients to make ‘full and frank’ disclosures to us, and in turn we are better equipped to advise and represent them.

Today, matters of international law require very high levels of competency. The ability to form teams of lawyers of the utmost professionalism and expertise, to coordinate their actions and to be able to drive the most adequate strategy forward, all in the best interests of the client, is what I devote myself to and the reason that led me to start my legal and strategy consultancy firm in Dubai, Isenegger Advisory Group. And it is that same curiosity and passion that, after 30 years in the business, keeps me going.

Ralph Oswald Isenegger is the founder of Isenegger International Advisory Group (IIAG), a legal consultancy firm that deals with extraordinarily complex cases