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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

18 February 2016

A US firm that balances an outstanding reputation for litigation with an increasingly prominent arbitration practice

Pending cases as counsel: 20
Value of pending counsel work: US$21.5 billion
Treaty cases: 2
Current arbitrator appointments: 2 (of which 0 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 2

It is rare for an international firm to earn the largest part of its revenue from court cases, but Kirkland & Ellis does just that, helped by some huge instructions that include defending BP in the multi-district litigation over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The size of the firm’s litigation practice has tended to overshadow its name for international arbitration – but in contrast to other US litigation powerhouses, Kirkland & Ellis does have a serious international arbitration team, working mainly from London.

The firm started to build up that capability in 2005 with the hire of partners Christopher Colbridge and Rajinder Bassi from Shearman & Sterling, where Colbridge was head of the London arbitration group. Both their careers began at Clifford Chance. Under their stewardship, the group has grown through a mix of internal promotions and strategic hires, expanding from four lawyers in 2005 to 13 today. The group is now led by Colbridge in London.

In 2013, a US scorecard found that the firm was acting in two of the top 10 commercial arbitrations in the world by value, including the second-largest: a US$48 billion LCIA case between shareholders in Russian aluminium producer Rusal (now settled).

Network

Outside London, Kirkland & Ellis has several litigation partners with international arbitration experience in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC.

Who uses it?

Big names include Boeing, BP America, Oleg Deripaska’s EN+ Group, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, PwC and Samsung.

Kirkland & Ellis has also represented chemicals companies Dow and Innospec, and Dedon GmbH, an outdoor furniture maker founded by a former Bayern Munich goalkeeper. It is representing Pakistani company Agro Tractors in an ICC dispute against a Singaporean company, John Deere Asia.

Track record

Colbridge led a team that won a multimillion-dollar award for the UK’s ICS Inspection and Control Services in an ICC arbitration against Kenya. The win was backed up by a victory at the enforcement stage in the English High Court, including a freezing order on Kenyan assets that secured a full settlement of the claims.

ICS’s parent company, Kuwaiti-headquartered logistics firm Agility, has retained the firm in several other matters, including AAA proceedings against military contractor Dyncorp that saw an award in Agility’s favour.)

Bassi managed to get a client 95 per cent off of an UNCITRAL claim for US$250 million (winning most of her costs too). The two sides also discovered afterwards that their relations were still sufficiently amicable to go on doing business.

The firm has also achieved a number of favourable settlements, including for the Monier Group in two ICC arbitrations with the Lafarge Group, seated in Paris and Frankfurt. Another was for the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in a dispute over a delayed infrastructure project in the Gaza Strip.

In 2014, the firm oversaw an amicable settlement to the US$48 billion consolidated LCIA proceedings between Rusal’s shareholders. Bassi and former partner Ulrich Payne (who later left the firm) acted as counsel to Rusal’s controlling shareholder, Jersey holding company En+ Group, which was a respondent in the case.

Recent events

In 2015, it emerged that a team led by Chris Colbridge has been assisting UK investor ICS Inspection and Control Services in its second UNCITRAL claim against Argentina after the investor’s first claim was dismissed three years ago. The dispute arises over the state’s alleged failure to honour a contract for customs inspection services.

Chinese insurer Ping An hired the firm for a €1.5 billion ICSID claim against the Belgian government – the first to be brought by a mainland Chinese investor and also the first against Belgium. However, a tribunal rejected the claim at the jurisdictional stage in 2015. Another ICSID claim the firm was working on against Pakistan cleared the jurisdictional stage in 2013 but is reported to have been withdrawn (the investor hasn’t confirmed this).

The firm promoted Neema Dowson-Collins to partner in London.

Client comment

Oded Friedmann, legal counsel at shopping centre developer and operator Atrium European Management, says Kirkland provides “detail-oriented” work and advice while always keeping the big picture in mind. “That combination allows management to focus on the general direction of the dispute and its solution, while being fully aware of the smaller – but not less important – details of the case,” he notes. “We needed legal advisers with proven international experience in a number of fields, which we found at Kirkland.”

Naguib Sagwiris, executive chairman of Egyptian telcoms company OTMT, highlights the “commercial sense” of the lead partners who have helped him and his company in several matters. Bassi and Colbridge were “more in command” than other counsel, he notes.