Laurie Craig 1933-2023

Laurie Craig, who led the legendary Coudert Brothers international arbitration group in Paris, where he helped shape modern arbitral practice and was a teacher and mentor to many leading figures in the field, has died aged 89.

The Francophile American – who died in Romilly-sur-Seine, France, on 30 June – was, in the words of former colleague Jean-Claude Najar, “a kind, courteous, soft-spoken man, with natural authority stemming from his wise manners.”

A key figure of the Paris arbitration scene and leading practitioner in the field for over 50 years, Craig led work on seminal cases and has been credited, together with a few other exceptional international lawyers, with inventing and trialling the unique blend of procedures, taken from the civil and common law traditions, that characterise arbitral practice today.

He also created a unique atmosphere and sense of camaraderie and team spirit at 44 and 52 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, where the Coudert group was at different times based, and inspired a host of young lawyers with his quiet, unassuming leadership style.

Among them were Najar, William W Park, Jan Paulsson, Paul Friedland, Charles Kaplan, Michael Polkinghorne, Ron Goodman, Philip Dunham and Eduardo Silva Romero, who learned the esoteric craft of international arbitration from Craig and went on to become distinguished practice leaders.

The Coudert arbitration group in Paris has been described by Kaplan, introducing Craig at a GAR Lifetime Achievement Awards ceremony in Milan in 2017, as brilliant and cosmopolitan but “slightly freakish”.

It functioned as “a laboratory of international law and practice”, he said, with Craig encouraging its work and “extraordinarily open to testing its conclusions in practice... It was very much Laurie’s laboratory.”

Paulsson says it was “an exhilarating, sometimes fractious place to practice, which would not have survived as long as it did without the occasional voice of reason provided by Laurie, a wonderful team player who never showed the slightest interest in taking personal credit for anything.”

The path to Coudert

William Laurence Craig was the son of a US Navy captain, born in New York on 17 September 1933. He got his BA from Williams College in Massachusetts, in 1954, and his JD from Harvard in 1957, gaining admission to the New York bar the same year.

He began his career travelling the world as a lawyer in the US Navy, an experience of which he was most proud (friends remember souvenirs in his office in Paris, including a photograph of his old ship, the Navy destroyer USS Dewey).

In the late 1950s, the Dewey was sent to the Dominican Republic, which was considered to be at risk of rioting because of opposition to dictator Rafael Trujillo. After stepping ashore in the capital, Santo Domingo, in his Dress White Navy uniform, Craig attended a reception hosted by the US Embassy and was spotted by the ambassador’s daughter, who resolved to marry him on first sight.

Penelope, known to all as Penny, was as gregarious in character as Craig was reserved. After he left the Navy, they returned to the US and were married in New York in 1961.

Craig worked as an associate at Covington & Burling in Washington, DC, arguing small cases before the district court, before moving to Paris to join the French arm of New York law firm Coudert Brothers in 1964 and becoming a partner three years later. He had first visited Paris on military leave from the Navy and fallen in love with the city. 

At Coudert, he quickly started working on international arbitration, having been introduced to the still nascent field by the firm’s charismatic senior partner Charles Torem, who was the American representative at the ICC International Court of Arbitration.

This line of work seemed perfect for Craig, who hoped to replicate the excitement of travel he had experienced in the Navy (he soon got perhaps more excitement than he had bargained for, finding himself stranded with other passengers on the tarmac of Rome airport for 72 hours when it was attacked by a Palestinian terrorist group in 1973, between a bombed Pan Am flight and a hijacked Lufthansa flight, before eventually being rescued by Italian police). 

As he later told American Lawyer magazine, it was also a fortuitous time to embark on a career in international arbitration, just as a “real flow of contentious cases” started to develop out of the oil crises of the 1970s.

An early addition to Craig’s team at Coudert was Park, who joined in 1972 after graduating from Columbia Law School. Soon afterwards, Craig interviewed Paulsson at Yale and offered him a summer trainee-ship.

Paulsson subsequently returned to Coudert as an associate, lured by the prospect of working with Craig and what he called the firm’s “cosmopolitan panache.”

The two were extremely close, described by one former colleague as “the Jedi and the young knight".

Cases against Libya and Iran

In 1973, Libya's leader, Colonel Gaddafi, issued a decree nationalising the Libyan American Oil Company, among other entities. This gave rise to Liamco v Libya, a historic ad hoc arbitration before sole arbitrator Sobhi Mahmassani, which kick-started the principle of states being held liable for expropriated corporate assets.

Craig led work on the case in Geneva, at which only the claimant side appeared, and eventually obtained an award of US$80 million for former concession holders who had been stripped of their rights years earlier than agreed.

Later, he obtained satisfaction of the award despite Libya’s pleas that its assets in multiple jurisdictions were protected by sovereign immunity.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a further rich source of work. Craig was a pioneer in representing US investors before the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal that was formed in The Hague. He also led work on a constellation of disputes arising from the cancellation of the Shah’s energy programme, which gave rise to three massive ICC arbitrations lasting nearly a decade.

Speaking of these cases, brought by the Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique and other French entities against Iran, Paulsson explains, “Iran had made major commitments in the industry under the Shah in the 1970s. But once in power, the Ayatollah Khomeini announced that he had been informed by divine authority that nuclear energy was bad and could not be pursued by the righteous. That meant, in Iran’s view, that it was allowed to invoke force majeure and walk away from its large contracts, including its joint venture partnership in the Eurodif uranium enrichment plant in southern France. For those of us who were at Coudert at the time, this was likely the matter for which we logged the most hours in our careers.”

One of the cases was chaired by the grandfather of the New York Convention, Pieter Sanders, while another was chaired by a former chair of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal Pierre Bellet.

Craig approached Pierre Trudeau, who had recently stepped down as prime minister of Canada, to be his client’s party-appointed arbitrator in the first of the cases, but he declined. On Trudeau’s recommendation, Craig instead appointed former Canadian cabinet minister Marc Lalonde, recognising him as “a man of simplicity and directness” whose legal training and government experience meant he would understand the complex legal issues in the case and contractual practices in nuclear energy projects.

That appointment launched a career. Lalonde, who sat in two of the cases against Iran and loved every minute of them, went on to become a leading international arbitrator.

Another lawyer whose career was shaped by Craig was Pierre Mayer, a professor of law at the Sorbonne who became a consultant for Coudert and, subsequently, a leading international arbitrator.

The Pyramids case

After the Iran cases settled politically, a major case that came Coudert’s way was the Pyramids case (SPP v Egypt), over the development of a tourist resort near the pyramids, which Egypt had cancelled in response to international pressure. In that case, Craig handed control to his up-and-coming partner, Paulsson, who was then just 28 years old, telling him to “see how you get on”.

In 1983, an ICC tribunal found Egypt liable to compensate Coudert’s client, SPP, for the wasted costs of its investment and lost profits, but the award was set aside by the Paris Court of Appeal on the basis that the state was not a party to the contract between the developer and its Egyptian partner, a publicly owned entity.

Paulsson responded by obsessively studying the ICSID Convention, its negotiation history and the commentaries of its drafters and coming up with the idea that consent to an ICSID arbitration might be expressed by a state, independently of any contract, in a separate instrument such as Egypt’s investment law.

Urged by Craig to “give it a try”, he then persuaded SPP to file a claim at ICSID, leading to a 1992 award in the company’s favour, which was upheld by one of the first ICSID annulment committees.

The case has gone down in arbitral history because of the recognition that there can be separate consents to ICSID arbitration: by a state in an investment law or bilateral investment treaty, and by an investor in its request to the centre.

Meanwhile, Craig was also working on other cases, one of which memorably took him to Baghdad for a French client at the height of the Iran-Iraq War. Paulsson recalls that he was “distressed to find how much a sophisticated, tolerant, and well educated society was being degraded by tyranny.”

Team building

Alongside his casework, Craig worked on a PhD thesis at Paris II University under the supervision of renowned international arbitration academic Berthold Goldman, becoming a Docteur en Droit Privé in 1981, a rare accomplishment for a non-French lawyer.

With Park and Paulsson, he also wrote what was for a long time the only hands-on guide to ICC arbitration, first published in 1984. With its practical advice on a multitude of possible scenarios, this became an indispensable reference book for practitioners approaching not just ICC cases, but arbitration generally, and ran to a subsequent three editions.

Craig continued to build his team with Paulsson’s help. Najar, who had also been working on a PhD with Goldman, joined in 1981, hired partly because the group needed a Turkish speaker. Friedland and Kaplan arrived on the same day in 1984, recruited from Coudert New York and an investment bank, respectively.

Polkinghorne joined in 1988, hired from Norton Rose in London, while Goodman was a recruit from the Iran-US Claims Tribunal later that year. Another 1980s hire was Jacques Buhart, now known mainly as an M&A and EU competition law practitioner rather than an arbitration specialist.

The 1990s brought further additions to the team, with Dunham transferring from Coudert in London in 1995 to cover for Polkinghorne when he moved back to the Bangkok office.

Silva Romero joined as a foreign associate a year later, hired by Craig to work on matters in Spanish and on the Brasoil v Libya case, which was brought by an affiliate of Brazilian energy company Petrobras and gave rise to court proceedings in Brazil, France and Italy.

At the time he was hired, Silva Romero was working on a PhD thesis on philosophy of law, a topic that he told GAR had raised eyebrows at numerous other job interviews. Craig was not put off, telling Silva Romero it was “not silly at all; we need people thinking out of the box to win cases!”

Another who owes his career to Craig is Chinese lawyer and arbitrator Jingzhou Tao, former managing partner of Coudert’s Beijing office, who says that he switched from corporate law to arbitration as a result of a conversation with Craig in his office in the Champs-Elysées in the 90s.

Inspired advocacy

Craig himself excelled as a strategist and advocate and was described by those who worked with him as a masterful cross-examiner, who cut to the heart of issues with his unflamboyant, even reductionist, lines of questioning. “Isn’t it a fact that what it comes down to is nothing more to this?” he would ask.

In an essay written for a Liber Amicorum for Craig in 2016, Paulsson vividly recalls one occasion when Craig demonstrated inspired advocacy in reaction to the unforeseen, throwing his previous game plan out of the window in an instant at a critical juncture of the Pyramids case.

“The scene was a rented hearing room in Paris in 1982,” Paulsson writes. Craig as senior advocate was about to question SPP’s main witness David Gilmour, an elegant, aristocratic Canadian businessman, who was one of the principal shareholders and executives of the hotel empire and was said to be able to sell snow to the Eskimos at a premium.

This was Gilmour’s moment to persuade the tribunal – crucially for SPP’s case – that the company had dealt directly with the Egyptian government and that the minister of tourism’s signature on the contract referencing ICC arbitration amounted to consent by the government. “Gilmour had drafted a very detailed and highly polished witness statement, but we wanted the force of his personality and persuasive powers to come through, face-to-face with the arbitrators, [while] the man himself... was eager to have his day in court and to make the arbitrators understand and feel what he had been through.” Paulsson explains.

As things turned out, Gilmour was not called until the penultimate day of the hearing, with Craig informing the tribunal that he proposed to examine him for most of the day before tendering him to Egypt for cross-examination. Egypt, however, said that it needed more time to examine him and that his evidence would have to be adjourned.

Facing the disappointing prospect of many months' delay, Paulsson says Craig posed a seemingly “harmless” question to Egypt’s counsel, asking him whether he was “sure” he would require so much time with the witness. Counsel eagerly confirmed that he was, stating that he had “many, many” questions to ask on the basis of the statement alone.

Without any consultation with the client or his team and to the astonishment of all present, Craig then stated that SPP would put no questions to Gilmour, allowing Egypt two full days to cross-examine him. In Paulsson’s telling, he acted on pure instinct, surmising that the other side was not ready and was counting on winning the motion to adjourn.

Egypt could not object without losing credibility and therefore had to embark on an on-the-hoof cross-examination, which consisted mainly of reading sentences of the statement back to Gilmour and challenging their accuracy, without any probing follow-ups. The witness responded to everything put to him cogently and in detail.

By lunchtime, when the stream of questions had dried up, Craig uttered the coup de grace, “We still have no questions for Mr Gilmour; we waive re-examination as well”. In a key moment of proceedings, Paulsson says he had given up the chance to stage-manage Gilmour’s performance, rightly predicting that his evidence would be enhanced if given spontaneously in response to unfriendly interrogation.

It was as if he knew “with every fibre of [his] being....the right and only thing to do”.

A beloved mentor

Despite his legal acumen, it was for his role as teacher and mentor to others that Craig was perhaps most appreciated. In the same essay written for his Liber Amicorum, Paulsson explores why he was so successful at nurturing talent, writing that he understood a good leader was “neither crutch nor slave master” and that “nothing motivates ambitious young people more than the opportunity to operate autonomously”.

Unlike many successful lawyers who seem “jealous of their claim to the first chair in hearings”, Paulsson says Craig seemed indifferent to taking the lead in promising matters such as the Pyramids case, instead passing control to a hungry young practitioner.

He later listened with an open mind to Paulsson’s ideas, and encouraged him in his innovative approach to the issue of consent, despite initial scepticism.

Nor was there any subtext of “If you screw up, you’re on your own!” Paulsson says Craig did not disown him when he “embarrassed himself” by rushing into the London High Court with a young barrister to seek an injunction to freeze assets in the Pyramids case without realising he had to have an instructing solicitor present.

He taught young lawyers by example, rather than by instruction, and appreciated and accommodated different approaches and styles from his own.

He always, however, emphasised the importance of substance over style and of boiling your case down to its essential message to convey to the tribunal. In an account of the cases against Iran at the GAR Awards, Kaplan remembered spending many weeks drawing up claims for projected revenues from uranium enrichment, lost as a result of Iranian withdrawal from the Eurodif project, and proudly presenting Craig with “an intricate lawyer’s explanation of how these sums had been calculated and why they were due to our clients.”

“I thought our case was luminous and my written explanations cogent,” Kaplan said. Craig’s kindly but quizzical response – “Couldn’t you just do a picture?” – taught him that “even for lawyers, there are sometimes better arguments than words.”

Craig’s prodigies in the arbitration group got to know Penny, by now an interior designer, who decorated his office at Coudert and was a frequent presence there. Many years after their marriage, they were still visibly in love.

Members of the team were also welcomed to the family home, a large Parisian townhouse in rue Pierre Guérin in the 16th arrondisment. There, Craig and Penny brought up their three children (who teased Craig mercilessly over his New York-accented French), babysat Goodman's newborn baby when her parents needed a break, and hosted memorable Christmas parties.

The leafy cul-de-sac was also home to the supermodel Carla Bruni, who became First Lady of France as the wife of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Craig had a second home in the US, on an island in Maine, and later acquired a weekend and holiday retreat outside Paris, in Noyen-sur-Seine.

Life after Coudert

Although long ranked among the highest grossing firms in the US by American Lawyer magazine, Coudert was dissolved in 2005 after a drop in profits and failure to reach a merger agreement with another firm, Baker McKenzie.

One reason for its decline was the rise of other competitive multinational law firms in the 1990s and 2000s, which took a less generalist approach. Craig is said to have been devastated by its collapse.

After Coudert, he briefly practised independently before joining another US firm, Orrick, as senior counsel, continuing to be a popular fixture of the Paris arbitration community as he had been since 1964.

From his office overlooking the Eiffel Tower, he advised on disputes such as French media conglomerate Vivendi’s multi-jurisdictional and multi-forum battle with Deutsche Telekom and Poland, in which he was responsible for the claimant’s overall strategy.

He also arbitrated cases under the rules of the ICC, LCIA, AAA, SIAC, CIETAC ICSID and UNCITRAL. Among the better known cases he heard were the ICSID case Joy Mining v Egypt; the SIAC case Laos v Lao Holdings & Sanum; the LCIA case Biwater-Gauff v Tanzania; and complex ICC cases arising from Occidental Petroleum’s investments in Yemen, the last of which reached an award in 2020 (with Craig issuing a dissent in favour of the claimant state).

In a neat twist of fate, he also arbitrated another “Pyramids” case under CRCICA rules, over Cairo real estate contracts awarded by Golden Pyramids Plaza (Paulsson was arbitrator in a subsequent arbitration arising from the same dispute).

He was a chief drafter of the 2012 ICC rules and a respected thought leader, appearing on panels that criticised some of the early annulment decisions at ICSID and warned against the addition of an appeal mechanism at the centre (let’s not “abandon” the whole idea of one-shot dispute resolution on which ICSID was formed, he urged at one event to mark its 50th anniversary).

Speaking at a GAR roundtable, he observed that a major change in the arbitration industry during his career was that young lawyers qualified in “a big arbitration factory” and practised nothing else, meaning they knew all there was to know about arbitration law and procedure but little about other types of law or conflict resolution.

He also voiced his desire to see growth of arbitration at “local market level”, with those who had done LLMs in major seats like London or Paris returning to develop capability in their home jurisdictions.

Many of Craig’s Coudert prodigies, meanwhile, pursued star careers at major law firms, including Freshfields and Three Crowns (Paulsson), White & Case (Friedland and Polkinghorne), Dechert (Dunham and Silva Romero) and Foley Hoag (Goodman). Kaplan joined Craig at Orrick, while Najar pursued an in-house career at GE.

All have acknowledged their great debt to the mentor affectionately known (in the days of written memos) as WLC, describing how they learned from his clear, fair and common-sensical approach and were inspired by his industry, drive and passion for international trade and investment law. In the words of Polkinghorne: “Jan taught me how to write and Laurie taught me how to work!”

As US arbitrator and academic Michael Reisman, a friend of Craig who invited him to teach at Yale, wrote in the preface to his Liber Amicorum, he was “above all...admired for his wisdom, his decency and his kindness”, a view that many former colleagues have echoed since his death. 

In recent years, Craig and Penny moved to an apartment in the same street where they had had their family home and, later, to their home in Noyen-sur-Seine. Attempts by former colleagues to contact Craig were unsuccessful as poor health made him increasingly reclusive.

In late June, he fell after throwing a ball to his beloved giant poodle, Gatsby, and hit his head on a marble table. He was treated briefly in hospital and then sent to a hospice in Romilly-sur-Seine, where he died with Penny and Gatsby at his side.

He is survived by Penny, to whom he was married for 62 years; their children Geoffrey, Benjamin and Jennifer; and three grandchildren.

William Laurence Craig, 17 September 1933 - 30 June 2023.

A memorial service for Craig will take place on 11 September at the Travellers Club, 25 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris.


This obituary draws on Charles Kaplan’s speech at the GAR Awards in 2017, Jan Paulsson’s essay “On Mentorship” in Laurie Craig’s Liber Amicorum and Jonathan Brosseau’s oral history of Marc Lalonde, found at this link


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