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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

PLMJ

18 February 2016

A Portuguese firm handling investor-state disputes

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 21+
Value of pending counsel work: US$4.9 billion
Treaty cases: 0
Current arbitrator appointments: 31 (of which 11 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 9

PLMJ was founded in the late 1960s and now reckons to be Portugal’s largest law firm. It took on its first arbitration in 1979 and has handled over 150 such cases since. It has the distinction of being the first firm in the country to have appeared as counsel in an ICSID case.

The team is led by founding partner José-Miguel Júdice, one of the country’s few internationally recognised arbitrators. A former member of the ICC Court, Júdice is on the arbitrator lists of ICSID, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and other institutions in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Mozambique and Korea. He’s also president of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce’s Arbitration Centre, a board member of the Spanish Arbitration Club,and a former board member of the Portuguese Arbitration Association.

Network

Most of the team is based in Lisbon and Oporto but the wider firm has offices or joint ventures in several other Portuguese cities. In addition, it has built up a network of associated firms in Portuguese-speaking countries, of which the most significant for arbitration purposes are Mozambique, Angola and Brazil.

Who uses it?

Portuguese construction companies feature heavily on the client list, often in connection with overseas infrastructure projects. But the firm has international clients too: it has acted for Getma (a unit of French logistics group NCT Necotrans) in a multifront dispute with Guinea; Irish building materials group CRH in an ICC matter; and Brazilian piping company Asperbras.

The firm also acts for states. It is defending Mozambique against a US$450 million claim brought by the former holder of a public infrastructure concession.

Track record

In 2014, the firm helped Getma win an award for more than €38 million against Guinea in a contractual dispute over a cancelled port concession in Conakry. The case was heard under the rules of OHADA, a pan-African institution based in Ivory Coast. However, there have been setbacks in that case (see “Recent events”).

PLMJ obtained a good result in 2011 for CRH as respondent in an ICC case brought by Portuguese conglomerate Semapa over a call option for shares in a joint venture. Although the tribunal ordered CRH to sell its stake in the venture to Semapa, it rejected the claimant’s demand for a 10 per cent discount on the share price as well as a damages claim for US$100 million. Semapa (which was represented by Freshfields) sought to have the award set aside in the French courts, but the award was upheld in the Paris Court of Appeal and most recently the Court of Cassation.

Dutch client Visser & Smit Hanab, a pipeline builder, saw all but 2 per cent of a US$21 million claim against it dismissed by an ICC tribunal, while winning almost half of its claimed damages in a counterclaim.

Recent events

The €38 million award that the firm secured for Getma against Guinea was set aside in December 2015 by the OHADA Common Court of Justice and Arbitration, which held that the arbitrators had breached their mandate by negotiating their fees directly with the parties. The tribunal members have published an open letter accusing the court of undermining international arbitration.

Getma is still pursuing enforcement of the award in the US, while it awaits a final award in a parallel ICSID claim against the state (which PLMJ is also running).

As this book went to press, GAR learned that PLMJ has been retained (together with Spanish firm Uría Menéndez) to act in an ICC case with no connection to Portugal, involving claims and counterclaims totalling US$3.5 billion.

It is also acting (alongside Dechert) for a Brazilian industrial group in a €108 million ICC case against a Portuguese bank.

Client comment

José Maurício Caldeira, a director of Brazil’s Asperbras, says that Júdice has “wide technical expertise” and an ability to “manage the proceeding according to the law and the client’s best interest.”

Paulo Marinho, legal counsel to Portuguese road developer Ascendi, tells GAR that PLMJ’s work is characterised by the team’s “interest, keenness, and availability”. “Every email I sent, seven days a week, was answered the same day (sometimes the same hour) and most of the time by the first chair, José-Miguel Júdice,” Marinho says.

Margarida Novais, legal counsel at Portuguese construction company CME, says that the PLMJ team displayed a calm demeanour during the arbitration, refusing to be intimidated by the opposing side’s “aggressive and intimidating” approach.