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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Obeid Law Firm

18 February 2016

A Lebanese family firm with a strong international presence, headed by the president elect of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators

People in Who’s Who Legal: 2
Pending cases as counsel: 4
Value of pending counsel work: US$1.2 billion
Treaty cases: 0
Current arbitrator appointments: 38 (of which 26 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 2

Nayla Comair-Obeid founded the firm in Beirut in 1987. Both firm and founder have since played a significant role in the development of arbitration in Lebanon and the Middle East.

A professor at the Lebanese Judicial Institute and Lebanese University and visiting professor at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Assas), Comair-Obeid has trained lawyers and judges across the Middle East about arbitration. Indeed, she claims responsibility for “an arbitration awareness campaign” across the country and the rise in undergraduate conferences devoted to the field.

She has also played an active role in the international arbitration community, severing on the board of Cairo’s arbitration centre and as vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee. She is president elect of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, due to begin her term in 2017 – when she will become the first woman and first person from the Middle East to hold the position.

Given Comair-Obeid’s reputation, it is no surprise that when Lebanon began to amend its arbitration law in the early 2000s, the firm was retained to prepare the first draft. Or that the IBA and ICC International Court of Arbitration have relied on it for the Arabic version of its guidelines and rules.

The arrival of partner Ziad Obeid (Nayla’s son) in 2011 boosted the firm’s capability in the field of construction disputes. Ziad trained initially as a civil engineer and has worked for a major construction company in France and an engineering company in Canada. He has also practised at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris and Dubai.

Who uses it?

Clients include Middle Eastern companies and states, including Lebanon itself, and US and Canadian companies in arbitration and court matters with a Lebanese angle.

Track record

Comair-Obeid is well known for her arbitrator work and is a member of the ICSID panel. She also acts as an expert on Middle Eastern law in international arbitrations – for example on Qatari law in an ad hoc dispute between an international security consultancy firm and its local partner.

In 2012, the High Court in London dismissed a challenge to a US$23 million ICC award that Comair-Obeid granted in favour of Bahraini construction company Terna against UAE family Bin Kamil.

The firm also has a track record of co-counselling with international firms – including Freshfields – and acting in Lebanese court proceedings relating to international arbitration. For example, it acted for Turkey in an action relating to the US$10 billion Libananco case at ICSID (in which Freshfields was counsel for the state).

Recent events

The firm acted as lead counsel in two unconnected high-value disputes for major regional engineering procurement and construction contractors, one of which was valued at US$160 million. Both were seated in Doha, Qatar, and conducted under ICC rules.

It is also lead counsel in a US$53 million dispute with a German-based conglomerate relating to a power utility project in the UAE.

In the Lebanese courts it appeared for an EPC contractor in arbitration-related proceedings, and for a Middle Eastern airline in annulment proceedings.

It is acting as regional counsel for a multinational group of companies, providing legal advice on a dispute related to a raw materials production plant in Syria, and advising on worldwide injunctions related to a multibillion-dollar LCIA dispute. Other regional counsel work includes a high-value ICC arbitration for a group in the consumer goods sector.

The firm’s legal expert practice was retained by an oil and gas consortium in a claim against a Middle Eastern state, and for a group of reinsurance companies in an LCIA dispute over an infrastructure project in Libya.

New hires include an Australian-qualified construction counsel, and a New York-qualified associate.

Client comment

Rebecca Soquier, an associate with Clyde & Co, told GAR the Obeid team is “very prompt and responsive. They have a clear handle on the legal issues submitted to them and consistently operate at high standards.” She adds that Comair-Obeid was a“clear and concise” expert witness who excelled under cross-examination, presenting as “articulate, agreeable and well prepared”.