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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Berwin Leighton Paisner

01 March 2017

The practice underwent another change of leadership and hired in London and Dubai

Pending cases as counsel 52
Value of pending counsel work US$3.5 billion
Treaty cases 1
Current arbitrator appointments 4 (of which 1 is as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 3

One of the London market’s success stories, BLP was formed from the 2001 merger of Berwin Leighton and Paisner & Co, and had doubled its turnover within five years thanks to its strength in the commercial real estate sector.

The merged firm established an international arbitration practice with a construction disputes slant, led by Michael Polonsky in London. Initially, the team was supplemented by members of the construction group and later by members of a Russian firm that was absorbed in 2009.

It took off with the recruitment of Nic Fletcher from Clifford Chance, who had worked under John Beechey (the past president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration). Now a QC, Fletcher left the firm in 2014 to practise as an independent arbitrator from 4 New Square in London.

After his departure, the practice was co-led by Richard Power in London and Kent Phillips in Singapore. Power left for Clyde & Co in 2015 and Phillips for Hogan Lovells a year later. The group is now steered by Jonathan Sacher in London.

Network

While most of the arbitration specialists are based in the London office, the firm has other practitioners in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The firm operates in Moscow under the name Goltsblat, with the practice led by Elena Trusova.

The London office also has a Russian partner, Clifford Chance alumnus Roman Khodykin, who contributes to its strength in Russia and CIS disputes.

In 2015, the firm hired its first international arbitration practitioners in Hong Kong: partners Glenn Haley and Geoffrey Shaw from local construction boutique Haley & Co.

The wider firm also has offices in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.

Who uses it?

BLP has a list of international clients that includes AIG, Balfour Beatty, Barclays, Canary Wharf, Chartis, Hellenic Petroleum, Lloyds, National Grid, Qatari Diar, Tesco, Trinidad Water Authority, Shell and UBS.

The arbitration team has handled several matters for project companies of AES, the US-based power company. That led to instructions in energy-related disputes, including defending the state of Lagos in Nigeria against a claim by Enron.

It has received a number of instructions from Scottish Power, the UK subsidiary of Spanish oil and gas company Iberdrola, including in a £20 million price adjustment dispute over a natural gas supply contract.

KBR and Italy’s Snamprogetti have instructed the group on international engineering disputes under English and other governing laws, and the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has retained it to advise on claims arising from the collapse of a major Caribbean insurer.

Track record

In 2012, the team secured a big win for South African financial institution Nedbank against the government of Gabon and helped to enforce a £25 million LCIA award against the state in favour of a South African construction company. The enforcement proceeding raised issues of state immunity as well as the legitimacy of an assignment of the construction company to BLP’s Mauritian client. Full payment has been secured.

A team in Moscow successfully represented ING bank in a three-year claim to recover US$35 million against a Forbes List-featured Russian oligarch – and secured interest of US$860,000.

In a London-seated LCIA case, partner Michael Polonsky persuaded sole arbitrator Hilary Heilbron QC to decline jurisdiction over a dispute between joint venture partners in a gold mine operation in Kyrgyzstan. The claim was for more than US$16 million and the outcome reportedly crucial to the client’s survival.

BLP helped Russian insurer Ingosstrakh recover €75 million from reinsurers following the collapse of a hydropower plant in Russia – one of the largest insurance losses in Russia’s history. It also successfully settled two SCC arbitrations for a Russian manufacturer of air separation equipment.

Recent events

As well as the departures mentioned above, the practice welcomed partners Ania Farren in London and Raza Mithani in Dubai. Farren, who previously worked at K&L Gates, has acted for Russia in Yukos-related matters, while Mithani spent three years leading the commercial disputes practice at King & Spalding in Dubai. Roger Millburn was promoted to of counsel in Singapore.

BLP continues to represent Russia’s VTB Bank in a US$145 million LCIA arbitration with a Cyprus company and is involved in several other energy, contracting and engineering disputes.  In Australia, it teamed up with Minter Ellison to convince an appeal court in Sydney to partially enforce a UAE award in favour of UK engineering company William Hare against an Australian designer of airport facilities.

The firm is known for its annual arbitration survey which has explored party views on conflicts of interest, delay, document production and choice of seat. The latest survey focused on diversity on arbitral tribunals.

Client comment

A senior London QC praises Carol Mulcahy in London for her “tactical abilities and strong industry knowledge”, and describes Roman Khodykin as one of the top partners for disputes with a Russian angle.