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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Homburger

18 February 2016

The Swiss firm reaped success for Jordan in 2015

People in Who’s Who Legal: 3
Pending cases as counsel: 21
Value of pending counsel work: US$3.9 billion
Treaty cases: 6
Current arbitrator appointments: 20 (of which 8 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 6

Homburger was once the Zurich arm of Baker & McKenzie, breaking away to become an independent firm in 1991. The modern arbitration group emerged from a reorganisation seven years later by Markus Wirth, former president of the Swiss Arbitration Association, and Thomas Müller before he retired in 2014.

In 2010, Müller passed the mantle of practice leader to partner Felix Dasser. Another name to know at the firm is Balz Gross, who was a prominent figure during the Megafon saga about the ownership of a Russian telecoms company.

Georg Naegeli, Gabrielle Nater-Bass and Mariella Orelli are also well-known names.

Though present only in Zurich, the team comprises lawyers from civil and common law backgrounds, including some US-qualified lawyers. Like many firms in Switzerland – a country that encompasses German, French and Italian culture, and recognises four national languages (the fourth is Romansh, spoken in the eastern canton of Grisons) – it regards itself as “especially prepared” to offer a multicultural approach on cases.

Who uses it?

Homburger’s client list includes Swiss household names such as Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Novartis and Roche, as well as major international names such as Sony Ericsson, Vivendi, Sky and Malaysian Airline System Berhad.

In recent years, the firm has reported an uptick in telecoms and pharma-related patent licence arbitrations.

Track record

It will be hard for Homburger to top its win in the Megafon proceedings (admittedly as part of a group of law firms). The team turned the arbitration around by producing evidence of money laundering and corruption in Russia. It overturned an unfavourable award in what was the first successful revision of an award before the Swiss Federal Tribunal on such grounds, before winning the main dispute.

But Homburger has also had other high points in recent times, including Dasser’s negotiation of a US$156 million settlement for German technology firm Infineon in an IP arbitration with a Taiwanese company; and a win for the Swiss power utility Atel (now Alpiq) against Italy’s Enel in an arbitration over long-term electricity supply contracts. It later also helped Alpiq win €43 million in a VIAC claim against Polish energy group PGE.

Moreover, the firm successfully defended two Turkish companies in an ICC arbitration against a company seeking loan repayments; and secured a win for investors in a CAT Bond reinsurance arbitration – among the first of its kind to take place in Switzerland and under Swiss law.

In a couple of recent ICC cases, Homburger says it succeeded in persuading the tribunal of misbehaviour by the opposing party. In one case, the client was the buyer in a major M&A transaction, who accused the seller of massaging financial results. In the other case, the firm helped a European state-owned company prevail in a misrepresentation claim against a US trading company.

Recent events

Previous successes led to a new instruction from Alpiq in an Energy Charter Treaty claim against Romania before ICSID.

Gross led a team that helped a Jordanian state investment fund defeat an LCIA claim brought over its breach of an agreement to sell shares in a local bank to an affiliate of Qatar’s Al Musabalah Doha Capital. Jordan maintains that the share sale agreement was fraudulent. The state is also facing a related ICSID claim by a Qatari businessman over the share sale deal, for which it has also retained Homburger. That case is thought to be the first ICSID claim brought under an investment agreement between member states of the Arab League.

Claudio Bazzani, an associate at the firm for eight years, was promoted to partner in early 2015 and counsel Melissa Magliana was made co-chair of the under-40 group of the Swiss Arbitration Assocaition.

Partner Felix Dasser will speak at ICCA Mauritius in 2016.

Client comment

One client says he hired the firm on account of its expertise in Swiss law and got more value than he bargained for: “The request for arbitration was drafted particularly well, and it clearly showed the other party that they would lose the case. They immediately proposed a settlement and we settled the case within few weeks,” he notes.

Another client tells GAR that Balz Gross’s experience made the firm’s work “very convincing”, as did the tactical skills of the rest of the team and their ability to analyse every detail of a complicated case.