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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Winston & Strawn

10 March 2017

Acting for Ukraine in Russia-related matters

Pending cases as counsel 21
Value of pending counsel work US$15 billion+
Treaty cases 7
Current arbitrator appointments 12 (of which 8 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 4

Winston & Strawn has had arbitration specialists in the United States and Europe for many years – but the line-up has changed a fair amount.

The origins of the group go back to 1993, when the firm merged with Geneva boutique Surrey & Morse. It was a unique local outfit comprising US litigators and Swiss lawyers who undertook World Trade Organization work and advocacy before international tribunals, especially the Iran-US Claims Tribunal.

The practice later expanded to Paris, Washington DC and Hong Kong, but the growth period was followed by a slump, as various chunks of the team migrated to other firms.

Things steadied in 2011 with the hire of Mark Bravin and Don Wallace from the arbitration team at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in DC, and a year later the firm recruited Joe Tirado, one of the leaders of Norton Rose’s arbitration group. Bravin and Tirado co-chaired the practice until 2015, and helped to develop the firm’s reputation for Latin America and CIS-related work in particular.

However, the practice has had another shake-up recently after Winston closed its Geneva office in 2015 and various members of the team retired or left for other firms – among them Tirado, Bravin and Wallace.

The arbitration practice is now chaired by Ricardo Ugarte, who’s been with Winston for more than 20 years and now divides his time between Chicago and London. In late 2016, the London office also recruited Michael Stepek, former head of international arbitration at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Geneva.

Other names to know are Eric Bloom and Tomás Leonard in DC, who are part of the investment arbitration team; and former Renault in-house counsel Philippe Cavalieros in Paris.

Network

The main offices for arbitration are DC, Paris, London, New York, Hong Kong and, to a lesser extent, Chicago and Houston. There are also people in Brussels, Beijing and San Francisco.

Who uses it?

States, for the most part. The team has for a long time represented Ecuador in a range of arbitration and US court matters, including Chevron’s US$9 billion denial of justice claim at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

It has also acted for Chile in the interminable Víctor Pey Casado proceedings at ICSID (concerning a newspaper expropriated by the Pinochet regime) and helped Jordan prevail in another ICSID matter. Other recent state clients include Romania, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

But there are some investors on the books too. At ICSID, it’s acting for Jordanian-Lebanese businessman Michael Dagher in a telecoms-related claim against Sudan; French voucher company Sodexo in a case against Hungary and US mining company Dominian Minerals (against Panama).

It’s also acting for an investor in one of the growing number of Energy Charter Treaty claims against Italy relating to that country’s renewable energy reforms; and has advised Philip Morris Asia and Gazprom in investment treaty matters.

For commercial cases, clients include McDonald’s International, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Abbott Laboratories, Alstom, Lear Corporation, Motorola, Symbion Power, engineering consultancy AMEC and US manufacturer PPG.

Track record

Although a number of the partners who worked on the cases have since left, the firm can boast of successes for Romania (helping to defeat a US$140 million ICSID claim in 2011 and obtain US$8 million in costs) and Kyrgyzstan (securing the withdrawal of a pair of treaty claims relating to the 2010 nationalisation of Asia Universal Bank).

Winston also secured a win for Jordan in an ICC case over the construction of a railway system connecting the country’s two most populous cities (and the discontinuance of a parallel ICSID case).

For Ecuador, the firm helped to reduce a substantial treaty claim by Chevron relating to delays in the country’s court system to an award of just US$96 million that was eventually paid after a long enforcement battle. 

The firm obtained a favourable settlement for Motorola in a US$1 billion ICC arbitration with Huawei, and gained victories for a US pharmaceutical company and its German affiliate in an ICC trademark arbitration and the nutritional division of another US pharma in a Swiss Rules case.

Winston has also negotiated settlements for Italian-owned energy company Endesa Chile in a billion-dollar ICC dispute over work on a power plant in Chile (the client paid US$131 million); and Ukrainian oligarch Mikhail Spektor in an US$800 million LCIA dispute with former business partner Viktor Pinchuk.

Recent events

2016 was another turbulent year for the firm in terms of personnel changes. Practice co-chair Joe Tirado left to join the London office of Spanish firm Garrigues. The other co-chair, Mark Bravin, left for the DC office of Los Angeles-based Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Veteran counsel Don Wallace followed Bravin over to his new firm later in the year.  

Leadership of the practice has passed to Ricardo Ugarte, who relocated to Chicago and London following the 2015 closure of the Geneva office, where he had been managing partner.

There followed a series of hires in London from Akin Gump, including that firm’s global head of international arbitration Michael Stepek, energy and infrastructure disputes partner Matthew Bate, and counsel Kseniya Elfimova.

A Paris team headed by partner Maria Kostytska represented Ukraine in French court proceedings, where the state failed to set aside a US$112 million investment treaty award in favour of Russian oil company Tatneft. Winston continues to represent Ukraine in a related investment treaty claim by the semiautonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan arising from the seizure of an oil refinery.

US company Dominion Minerals instructed the firm for a US$268 million ICSID claim against Panama relating to the loss of a copper mining concession, which involves allegations of corruption against government officials.

The firm continued its work for Ecuador in its long-running treaty dispute with Chevron relating to environmental pollution in the Amazon. An award on liability is pending.

Client comment

A government client praises Winston’s “dedication, professionalism and expertise” in its work on a particularly complex dispute, singling out partner Eric Bloom in particular as a great strategist. Of counsel Nicole Silver is fêted for “the clarity of her expositions”. Nassim Hooshmandnia in Hong Kong also made “remarkable” contributions.