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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Lazareff Le Bars

10 March 2017

Handling a US$12 billion treaty claim against Russia

Pending cases as counsel 7
Value of pending counsel work US$17.6 billion+
Treaty cases 3
Current arbitrator appointments 13 (of which 4 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 5

This Paris boutique was set up by Benoît Le Bars, formerly of Hammonds Hausmann, in 2010. It gained Serge Lazareff, one of France’s best-known arbitrators, as a name partner after he fell out with his former boutique (what is now Derains & Gharavi).

Since Lazareff’s death in 2012, Le Bars has developed the firm as a leading name for West Africa-related cases under OHADA and ICC rules. More recently the firm hired counsel and arbitrator Jean-Claude Najar from Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle. Najar brings 24 years’ experience as an in-house counsel at GE and has been actively involved in the promotion of Turkey as an arbitration venue. 

The firm’s most high-profile instruction to date has come from exiled Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev – once known as “the Kremlin’s banker”. In 2016, he picked the firm to replace King & Spalding as counsel in a US$12 billion investment treaty claim against Russia that may turn out to be a replay of the Yukos saga. (White & Case is defending the state.)

Network

Lazareff Le Bars opened its first overseas office in Brussels in 2014, headed by new hire Henri-Paul Lemaitre. The firm also has an arrangement with New York and San Francisco-based law firm Girard Gibbs, which is often brought in on cases with a US-law dimension.

Who uses it?

The clientele tends to be from Europe or Africa, with a particularly strong showing in the telecoms sector such as France’s Orange Group and UAE telecoms provider Etisalat. The firm is also acting for parties in the mining industry, for example Canadian company B2Gold in an international mediation arising from a project in Mali.

Track record

In 2014, Lazareff Le Bars helped an Orange subsidiary win a €132 million ICC award against Equatorial Guinea, in a case arising out of the settlement of a previous joint-venture dispute. Orange has since applied to a US court for enforcement.

The firm also had success in a €280 million dispute between Italian and US parties in the automotive industry.

Recent events

Besides recruiting Najar, the firm promoted recent hire Athina Papaefstratiou Fouchard to counsel. Partner François de Senneville moved to Fieldfisher.

Besides winning the Pugachev brief, Lazareff Le Bars also won out against four GAR 30 firms to represent an Indian construction group in a potential US$1.2 billion claim against Libya under a regional treaty for member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The case is currently at the notice of dispute stage.

In another case for Orange, the firm helped to settle an ICSID claim against Jordan concerning the renewal of a 2G licence in late 2016. The French mobile operator agreed to pay US$220 million to the Jordanian government under a deal that allows it to continue operating in the country until 2029.

Le Bars has continued his activism on behalf of African arbitration. He was closely involved in formalising the ICC and OHADA’s partnership agreement, which was signed in June 2016. He was also appointed to co-head the legal task force that will establish rules and practices for a new arbitration centre in Djibouti that is expected to launch in 2017.

Client comment

Anne Desurmont, legal officer at French car parts manufacturer Mobivia Group, praises the team’s availability, their concern to address the company’s operational issues, and their knowledge of foreign regulations and practices. She also highlights the opportunity the firm offered to negotiate its fees. “Lazareff Le Bars knew the case deeper than the others, and it made a great difference,” she says.