Hans Smit — Un Grand Homme – Vol. 23 No. 3-4

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Author: Anne Marie Whitesell*

Published: January 2013

Description: As has often been stated, Hans Smit was a great man – physically, intellectually and personally. I was highly privileged to know Hans for many years. Indeed, I had the chance to be accompanied by Hans from the beginning of my work as a lawyer and throughout the various phases of my career.

I met Hans when I started working as a young lawyer for a firm in New York. My first case was an arbitration in which Hans was the sole arbitrator. I still remember being impressed by his keen intellectual abilities. Extremely perceptive, Hans cut through the multiple layers of facts and legal arguments and grasped the true issues. His in-depth comprehension of the essential elements of the case showed in the insightful questions that he raised to somewhat intimidated counsel. Hans truly seemed to enjoy himself. It was a wonderful experience for a lawyer who was just starting out, and reinforced my desire to work in international arbitration.

This first case with Hans presented fascinating questions concerning the exchange rate to be used to calculate damages. Hans rendered an award in which he proposed to modify the New York practice at the time. He was proud of his decision, actually publishing a case note in which he wrote: “The author of this note . . . finds himself in the curious position of appreciating that his decision was attacked in court because it opened the possibility of exposing it to public scrutiny.” Subsequently, Hans often complained that the parties settled the matter before his award could be upheld by the New York federal court. Shortly thereafter, when Hans learned that I would be moving to France, he encouraged me to think about teaching. He introduced me to several professors at the Université de Paris I – Panthéon – Sorbonne. I soon found myself teaching part-time while working for a firm. To my great pleasure, the following year, Hans was a visiting professor at Paris I. What a chance to spend a year teaching with Hans at the same university!

Hans’ arrival at the university drew great attention. When he realized that there was no ice water available in his office, he rapidly purchased a small refrigerator, which he carried like a baby in his long arms up the wobbly centuries-old stairs of the Sorbonne. This greatly amused several members of the French administrative staff. Their amusement later turned to delight when they realized that such refrigerator served not only to make ice, but also to chill champagne.

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*Of Counsel, Dechert LLP, Washington, D.C.