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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Latham & Watkins

10 March 2017

Defending Ukraine against a US$5 billion claim

People in Who’s Who Legal 4
Pending cases as counsel 115
Value of pending counsel work US$50.2 billion+
Treaty cases 14
Current arbitrator appointments 43 (of which 22 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 10

Now the world’s largest law firm by revenue, Latham & Watkins entered early into international arbitration by US firms’ standards. The practice developed, at first, in New York, where it was co-headed by Selvyn Seidel – now head of disputes funder Fulbrook Capital. It began to expand with additions in Germany and Paris.

For many, though, it really gained prominence in London following the arrival of two then rising stars: Philip Clifford from Clifford Chance and Robert Volterra from Herbert Smith. Those two partners, plus Sebastian Seelmann-Eggebert in Germany, earnt it a reputation in commercial arbitration, public international law and investment treaty work.

A rocky period began in 2011, with Volterra leaving to set up his own firm and a team in New York departing a year later. Claudia Salomon, former co-chair of DLA Piper’s arbitration practice, joined in 2013 and now co-chairs the Latham practice from New York with another big figure, Fernando Mantilla-Serrano, who joined in Paris from Shearman & Sterling in 2014.

Other names to know are the highly-respected Ing Loong Yang, who joined in Hong Kong from Sidley Austin in 2013; and Sophie Lamb, who joined from Debevoise & Plimpton in 2016 to head the London international arbitration practice.

London partner Charles Claypoole has been active on much of the firm’s public international law and investor-state work.

Network

The best-known offices for arbitration are London, Paris, Frankfurt, Hamburg, New York and Hong Kong. The practice also has people in Madrid, Düsseldorf, Munich, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo.

Who uses it?

Private clients include ArcelorMittal, Austria’s Strabag (for an ICSID claim against Libya), Swiss multinational ABB, Daimler Financial Services (in a long-running dispute about a German toll project) and Chile-based asset management firm Linzor Capital (for a dispute with Uruguay).

It’s got a fair few energy disputes on as well: it has represented Colombia’s largest petroleum company Ecopetrol; and is acting for South California Edison in a mammoth case against Mitsubishi relating to a nuclear power plant in California – by latest estimate, the case is valued at around US$7.5 billion.

Mantilla-Serrano is meanwhile acting for a number of investors bringing Energy Charter Treaty claims against Spain over reforms to solar power subsidies.

On the state side, Latham has defended Croatia, Macedonia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Track record

Latham & Watkins has scored a pair of good ICSID results for Macedonia in recent years. In 2015, it persuaded a tribunal to throw out a US$20 million claim by a New Zealand financial services group at the jurisdictional stage, also securing costs for the state. Three years earlier, it helped to knock out the bulk of a €21 million claim by a Swiss confectioner.

On the investor side, it helped Singapore-based Indorama Group settle an ICSID claim against Egypt over the nationalisation of a textiles factory after the Arab Spring (the state reportedly paid out around US$54 million).

The firm helped Travis Coal Group win over US$200 million in an ICC claim against India’s Essar Group in 2014 – and then obtained an English court ruling requiring the debtor to pay security while it pursued a challenge to the award.

In 2013, Latham & Watkins helped US events promoter Live Nation Entertainment defeat an ICC claim for US$920 million brought by German software company CTS Eventim. It also fended off a claim against a major EU airline.

Mantilla-Serrano (along with his old firm Shearman) helped French water company SAUR International win US$59 million in an ICSID claim against Argentina in 2014.

Recent events

The firm made headlines in 2016 with the hire of the well-regarded Sophie Lamb in London. Her track record at Debevoise included helping ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil win a NAFTA claim against Canada, and arbitrating a gas dispute between Gazprom and Lithuania. 

Latham & Watkins won a tender to defend Ukraine against a US$5 billion Energy Charter Treaty claim at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce – believed to be the largest the state has ever faced. The claimants are three companies linked to Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. (King & Wood Mallesons is defending Ukrainian state entity Naftogaz in a related LCIA claim brought by the same companies.)

It helped Croatia to defeat a US$32 million investment treaty claim filed by a family of Belgian property investors, demonstrating that they had failed to conduct due diligence before a land purchase.

The firm settled another ICSID case against Egypt, this time on behalf of ArcelorMittal. The claim, reportedly worth US$600 million, was settled on confidential terms. The dispute concerned the construction of a steel plant on the Red Sea.

At the HKIAC, the firm won a US$100 million arbitration for Thai property and hospitality group LP Holdings in a dispute with a leading international hotel group.

Mantilla-Serrano had a setback in one of his ECT cases against Spain relating to reforms to the renewable energy sector – the first such case to see an award on the merits. The tribunal ruled that the reforms didn’t violate investors’ legitimate expectations. He continues to act for claimants in two similar cases against Spain. 

Client comment

Ling Zhang, from China-based investor Sequedge Group, hired Latham for a “troublesome” case in which the opponent took an aggressive stance. He says the firm was – without question – superior in skill, knowledge and finesse to the opponent’s counsel. Lead counsel Ing Loong Yang was “particularly impressive” when cross-examining two key witnesses.