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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

DLA Piper

17 March 2017

Helped Indian property tycoon Niranjan Hiranandani to defeat a fraud claim

People in Who’s Who Legal 4
Pending cases as counsel 160
Value of pending counsel work US$153 billion
Treaty cases 9
Current arbitrator appointments 14 (of which 9 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 7

DLA Piper has had various guises over the years but dates back to 1821. The DLA brand was created at the turn of the millennium in the UK, while the incarnation of the firm we know today is the product of various mergers with US law firms in the second part of the 2000s.

The result of these mergers – and a seemingly relentless expansion – is one of the world’s largest law firms by revenue, with lawyers nearly everywhere and financial results that are the envy of many.

That kind of business model generates plenty of scope for cross-border disputes work, and the firm has indeed developed sizeable arbitration teams in London, New York and Hong Kong, among other places.

The current global practice group began to take shape in 2001 with the arrival of Matthew Saunders, who was hired to develop a wider group in the area. He became co-chair of the international arbitration practice in 2006 alongside Claudia Salomon, who joined the New York office in that year from Squire Sanders. (Both have since left the firm, Salomon to Latham & Watkins in 2013 and Saunders to Ashurst in 2016.)

The team expanded as it took over new operations and made lateral hires aimed at gaps in its coverage. One of those was former Debevoise & Plimpton high-flyer Michael Ostrove in Paris, to help deal with an increase in work under ICC rules.

The group also enjoyed a whole new level of visibility in 2010 when it became adviser to the Russian side in arbitrations that flowed from the Russia–Ukraine gas wars of 2008 and 2009. It has recently followed this up with a stream of cases for Gazprom against Ukraine’s Naftogaz.

Following Saunders’ exit, the global practice is chaired by Michael Ostrove. Yu Jin-Tay (who joined from Shearman & Sterling in 2013) coordinates the practice in Asia, while partner Henry Quinlan in Dubai handles the Middle East. Cedric Chao in San Francisco leads the Americas practice.

Network

Almost too big to cover here. In arbitration terms, the more important offices are London, Paris, New York, Singapore and Dubai – but it’s in a whole lot of other places too. In Australia, for example, a merger with Phillips Fox added a Perth-based mining disputes team. It also has an arrangement with Venezuelan law firm InterJuris Abogados, giving it a presence in Caracas.

It’s continued to expand in the Americas, completing tie-ups in Canada, Mexico, Colombia and most recently Puerto Rico. It has a foothold in some 15 African jurisdictions, most recently opening up through an alliance with a local firm in Mozambique. A tie-up with Finnish firm Peltonen LMR in 2016 gave it a presence in Helsinki for the first time and added to its offering in Oslo and Stockholm (which has grown further thanks to a tie-up with Swedish firm Grönberg Advokatbyrå).

Who uses it?

As mentioned, the firm has had regular business from Russian gas suppliers – especially Gazprom for whom it is acting in a set of SCC cases against Ukraine’s Naftogaz worth over US$50 billion. Other energy clients include Unión Fenosa Gas, a joint venture between Spain’s Gas Natural and Italy's Eni.

It advises one of China’s largest shipbuilders, Jiangsu Rongsheng Heavy Industries, and has been involved in five disputes for state-owned oil company Sinopec. Another Chinese client is television company Star Times in a US$200 million ICC claim against Ghana.

French engineering group Technip is using it for a US$1.5 billion arbitration against Algeria’s Sonatrach over a refinery upgrade.

Work in 2003 for the Indian government on a BIT case (the Dabhol dispute) was leveraged into a treaty arbitration practice. DLA Piper’s government clients now include Georgia (in several matters), Thailand, Ghana, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Oman, Kenya and East Timor. On the investor side, the firm acted for Turkish telecoms company Turkcell in a US$2 billion claim against Iran.

The firm is generally popular with any client that prefers its lawyers to be locally based rather than “fly in, fly out”. Energy and telecoms firms can be particularly hot on this.

Track record

DLA won two substantial payouts for Gazprom subsidiary RosUkrEnergo. The first award, worth US$2.6 billion, against Ukrainian state entity Naftogaz, concerned ownership of gas that was held in storage in Ukraine and allegedly acquired by the Tymoshenko regime. DLA Piper fielded a team from Moscow, London, Kiev and Stockholm. The case spawned litigation in the courts of Ukraine and New York.

The other award, worth US$500 million, was against Hungarian gas distributor Emfesz. That was worked on by DLA lawyers from London, Moscow, Kiev, Warsaw and Budapest, assisted by members of Swedish firm Setterwalls.

In 2013, the firm won a large gas-pricing dispute for Italian utility Edison in an ICC arbitration in Paris, worth €300 million to the client. It also achieved a favourable settlement for Albania’s former state-owned telecoms operator following a €120 million ICC claim involving issues of Albanian, Greek and German law.

The firm has a good track record of defence wins for states. At ICSID, it helped Oman prevail in the state’s first-ever investment treaty case – seeing off a US$273 million claim over a limestone concession and winning nearly US$6 million in costs.

DLA Piper also helped the Czech Republic successfully defend a claim brought by a German investor in a championship golf course. In another case in 2014, it helped Ghana knock out all but US$12 million of a US energy company’s US$3 billion UNCITRAL claim.

Recent events

The firm helped Indian billionaire Niranjan Hiranandani defeat a £450 million LCIA claim by two real estate companies that accused him of fraudulently inducing them to make failed investments in four Indian township projects.

DLA Piper also advised Hiranandani and his son Darshan in a separate LCIA case brought by his daughter Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala, which led to a US$60 million award in her favour. A freezing order against Darshan’s assets was discharged by a court in Dubai in February 2017.

A team in the Milan office acted for Nike in a Geneva-seated UNCITRAL case, prevailing on claims that Italian football club Juventus breached an exclusive sponsorship deal in the fallout from a 2006 match-fixing scandal in Italy.

Before the Paris Court of Appeal, Ostrove led a team that helped Moldova annul a US$49 million Energy Charter Treaty award in favour of Ukrainian energy company Komstroy.

Partner Janet Legrand in London has been part of a team advising East Timor in compulsory conciliation proceedings with Australia at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Their client seeks to agree a permanent maritime boundary that could affect the fate of an estimated US$40 billion in oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

As co-counsel with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, the firm continues to defend Guinea in a pair of ICSID claims worth US$5 billion brought by companies linked to Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz over the revocation of mining licences following a bribery probe. The claimants recently failed in a bid to disqualify the entire tribunal.

The firm was also named on a shortlist of 12 firms in the running to advise the government of India in investment arbitration matters.

On the people side, it hired partners Ramsey Jurdi in Dubai and Mehdi Kettani in Casablanca and promoted Paul Smith in London and May Ng in Hong Kong to the partnership.

There were four promotions to counsel: Christina LawrenceElinor Thomas and Ben Sanderson in London, and Théobald Naud in Paris.

 

Client comment

Abdoulaye Magassouba from the Guinean ministry of mines says that Scott Horton, Michael Ostrove and Sârra-Tilila Bounfour are “showing an outstanding level of professional commitments and effectiveness” in their work for the state.

A client who instructed DLA Piper in a dispute of maximum importance to his company says it was the team’s dedication that impressed him the most. “No stones were left unturned until they had found the angles and issues that made the case what it ended up being, giving us the leverage we were looking for in a complicated dispute against very experienced opponents.”

DLA Piper’s fees are still below those of their competitors, with the lead partner providing “an impressive billing discipline”, the same client points out.

Another client was grateful to have London partner Kate Cervantes-Knox on side. “She is extremely responsive to client concerns and priorities,” he says. “She had to do some difficult oral arguments before a very difficult arbitrator and she killed it, aggressively staying on top of the issue and arguing the points effectively.”

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