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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Weil Gotshal & Manges

02 March 2017

Lost a practice head but picked up a high-profile instruction from Malaysia’s 1MDB

People in Who’s Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 29
Value of pending counsel work US$20 billion+
Treaty cases 10
Current arbitrator appointments 10 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 5

Founded in New York in the 1930s, Weil Gotshal & Manges has been a leading firm for US litigation for years. It started a stand-alone international arbitration group in 2003, which began to gather momentum later with the arrival of some seasoned names from other firms.

These included Juliet Blanch, former head of McDermott Will & Emery’s disputes practice, who joined in 2010 to lead the group. Another boost came in 2012 with the hire of an ICSID-savvy team from Crowell & Moring, including Arif Hyder Ali – who became co-leader of the arbitration group with Blanch.

Both those figures have now left, however. Ali moved to Dechert in 2015 and Blanch resigned in October 2016 to practise as an independent arbitrator and set up a new business providing advice and training to women in law.

The firm has yet to announce a replacement as head of the arbitration group. Partners who remain visible include Eric Ordway In New York, Ted Posner in Washington, DC, Karolina Horakova in Prague and Jamie Maples in London.

Network

The group says it has 30 lawyers across various offices. The key people are found in New York, DC and London as well as Prague, Warsaw and Budapest. It also has arbitration-literate partners in Paris, Frankfurt, Silicon Valley and most recently Dallas.

Who uses it?

Those offices in eastern Europe supply a lot of energy-related work across the region and the CIS. In the United States, the firm is popular with life-sciences and pharma companies based on its IP expertise.

Clients on record include Gazprom, Aventis, Sanofi, Genzyme, Czech power utility CEZ, Panasonic, Taiwan’s Pegatron, the Williams Companies and Polish state-controlled gas utility PGNiG, as well as the governments of Ecuador, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

It also acted for a consortium including Hunt Oil, Repsol, Sonatrach and South Korea’s SK Group in a contract-based ICSID claim against a Peruvian state agency over Peru’s largest natural gas project, which ended in 2015.

Track record

One of the firm’s best results to date has been for Hungarian oil and gas distributor MOL in a high-stakes dispute with the Croatian government. In late 2016, an UNCITRAL tribunal rejected Croatia’s attempt to nullify parts of a shareholders’ agreement on the basis of alleged corruption by Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader. Croatia is now trying to have the award set aside. Weil Gotshal co-counselled with Dechert in the case and the two firms continue to act for MOL in a related ICSID claim against Croatia under the Energy Charter Treaty.   

A case for PGNiG ended in a settlement worth US$12 billion to the client (a gas-pricing dispute – the company’s share price jumped 15 per cent at the result). PGNiG later hired the firm to act on another gas price arbitration against Gazprom.

Ted Posner made a name for himself in 2012 when he helped to bring about Argentina’s removal from the United States’ preferential trade list (the US General System of Preferences), for non-payment of an investment treaty award. It’s thought to be the first time that sanction has been used against a state. The award in question (owned by Blue Ridge Investments) has since been paid.

The team beat Slaughter and May to be instructed by a UK corporate on a Russian joint-venture dispute.

Roman Vojta and Karolína Horáková in Prague also took the lead in the firm’s work for CEZ in an Energy Charter Treaty dispute with Albania, which ended in a US$100 million settlement with the state’s newly elected government in 2014. A year later, the team helped CEZ defeat the bulk of an US$81 million claim by a Romanian state entity.

Recent events

Besides the victory for MOL mentioned above, the firm successfully defended Forbes in an arbitration with a Ukrainian media company over the termination of a licensing agreement in the wake of Russia-related sanctions.

The London office picked up a new instruction from embattled Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB to defend it in a US$6.5 billion LCIA claim brought by Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company over the alleged breach of a bailout deal. It is part of a larger scandal involving misapproriation of funds from 1MDB.

It continues to defend the Czech Republic in a case brought by the UK’s WNC Factoring over the privatisation of a power company; and Hungary in a US$52 million ICSID claim by a Portuguese food company (the tribunal has already held Hungary liable for a denial justice through the conduct of its insolvency courts but an award on damages is pending).

Client comment

The top executive of a South East Asian entity using the firm in a large commercial claim says partner Jamie Maples is “truly a breath of fresh air” with his non-confrontational approach and talent for “refining strategy on the trot”. The executive also has high praise for the firm’s ability to prevent the deterioration of relationships between the parties, chalking it up to Weil Gotshal’s “client first and resolution first” approach.

Pál Kara, general counsel at MOL, says of the firm: “Whether it is brainstorming, preparation for a hearing or putting together a submission, they have a well-thought approach that such complex cases require.” He adds that the Weil team strives to understand as broadly as possible all the tiny elements of their clients’ complex issues, which then enables them to handle and present the case “even more firmly”.

A general counsel at another Hungarian company that has used the firm repeatedly describes Weil Gotshal as “outstanding”.