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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Three Crowns

04 April 2018

The firm secured a win against Serbia and settled disputes with Kurdistan and Ecuador

People in Who’s Who Legal 6
People in Future Leaders 4
Pending cases as counsel 46
Value of pending counsel work US$110.7 billion
Treaty cases 15
Current arbitrator appointments
20 (of which 9 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 6

Few stories have had as many hits on GAR’s website as the launch of Three Crowns in 2014.

What made it so interesting? Two aspects. First: the boldness. There have been international arbitration “boutiques” before, but this was more of a mini-firm that opened simultaneously in three countries (the US, UK and France).

Second: the people. The founders included the illustrious Jan Paulsson, plus Constantine Partasides QC and Georgios Petrochilos – two of Paulsson’s heirs-apparent in the mighty Freshfields arbitration practice and in Partasides’ case, its co-chair.

Joining them was top talent from other shops: Todd Wetmore (who had played a big part in the recent success of Shearman & Sterling), Gaëtan Verhoosel (co-chair of international arbitration at Covington & Burling) and Luke Sobota (of Jones Day, where he was part of the team representing Chevron in its long-running battle with Ecuador).

Why would such good people want to leave such excellent firms? Nobody apart from the individuals in question knows. The official line is that Three Crowns embodies a “vision”; namely, that it is individuals, not firms, who “win” arbitrations, as long as they have the “space” to focus on a case properly and that David can get the better of Goliath.

Four years on, how’s it working out? The practice has certainly had no trouble attracting more talent. In 2015, it recruited its first female partner, Carmen Martinez Lopez, who had worked with Verhoosel at Three Crowns. It made its first homegrown partner, Scott Vesel, the following year.

Another homegrown partner promoted in late 2017 was Kathryn Khamsi in Paris, who had joined the firm from Shearman with Wetmore.

Since the firm started, clients have voted with their feet. It received more than 100 instructions in its first year, among them to pursue what the firm believes is the largest claim in the ICC’s history (US$20 billion). The value of its portfolio of pending counsel work has risen to around US$111 billion. Meanwhile profits per equity partner have reportedly reached Magic Circle levels.

Network

Three Crowns has offices in London, Paris and Washington, DC.

Who uses it?

The firm caters to repeat users of international arbitration who know the business well enough to forgo a big, established brand name. Since opening, it has been retained by:

  • investors bringing treaty claims against Spain over reforms to its renewable energy sector;
  • a claimant in a US$20 billion case against a state-owned company for its alleged role in an expropriation (the record ICC matter mentioned);
  • a consortium of oil companies for a large dispute in a former Soviet republic;
  • BP (which has added Three Crowns to its list of “niche law firm providers” panel – the only arbitration firm on that list);
  • a large Asian industrial conglomerate for potential BIT claims against a Latin American state; and
  • various governments on state-to-state matters, including a prominent Asian state that retained Paulsson and Petrochilos almost as soon as Three Crowns opened.

Members of the firm have also brought with them briefs from Areva, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, Perenco, Chevron, Tullow Oil and the UAE’s Dana Gas and Crescent Petroleum.

Track record

High points so far include:

  • winning Dana and Crescent a US$2 billion LCIA award against the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq in compensation for withheld gas payments (with Freshfields as co-counsel);
  • obtaining an order requiring Kurdistan to pay US$100 million within 30 days, and persuading the High Court in London to throw out the regional government’s sovereign immunity arguments;
  • helping Occidental defend the largest ICSID award ever in annulment proceedings before the oil company reached a US$980 million settlement with the government of Ecuador;
  • negotiating a settlement for Tullow Oil in a tax dispute with Uganda that reached ICSID;
  • acting as co-counsel to Chevron during three weeks of hearings for its denial of justice claim against Ecuador in The Hague; and
  • helping a group of South African mining investors win a landmark case against Lesotho under a multilateral investment treaty signed by member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Recent events

Three Crowns won a US$40 million award in 2017 for Greek industrial conglomerate Mytilineos Holdings in a treaty claim against Serbia over a copper mining and smelting company. It also convinced the tribunal to order Serbia to pay 75% of the claimant’s legal costs.

It helped Dana and Crescent settle their highly politicised LCIA arbitration against the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq. In August 2017, Kurdistan agreed to pay US$1 billion and to grant new oil and gas exploration blocks to the consortium, settling a four-year dispute. The agreement also ends the consortium’s efforts to enforce a US$2 billion partial award in the UK, US and the Dubai International Financial Centre.

In another successful settlement, Paulsson teamed up with Freshfields and King & Spalding to help US oil company ConocoPhillips end its nine-year ICSID dispute with Ecuador over the expropriation of two oil blocks. The state agreed to pay US$337 million to satisfy an award issued earlier in 2017.

Together with Shearman & Sterling, the firm continues to act for France’s Areva in a €5.8 billion dispute with Finnish utility TVO over the construction of a nuclear power plant in Finland. Two partial awards were issued in 2017 and the tribunal is now expected to move towards a final award on quantum.

There were a couple of setbacks in other cases. The firm, with Covington & Burling, failed to save an ICSID award won by ExxonMobil against Venezuela from an annulment committee, which chopped US$1.41 billion from the US$1.6 billion award compensating Exxon for the expropriation of its stake in the Cerro Negro oil project.

Partasides also teamed up with DLA Piper to represent Chevron in an ICC claim against a Romanian state agency. The tribunal rejected Chevron’s claims and ordered it to pay the agency US$73 million for terminating three shale-gas concessions.

New instructions came from Bahrain, which Paulsson is defending against separate treaty claims filed by the Iran Insurance Company and Iranian banks Melli and Saderat in cases arising from the unrest during the Arab Spring.

The firm was also instructed to act for Singapore’s Puma Energy in a treaty claim against Papua New Guinea relating to taxes on crude oil production. Puma, a subsidiary of Trafigura, is already using the firm in a claim against Benin.

The firm hired two counsel: Elizabeth Snodgrass, who joined the firm in Washington, DC after practising at Freshfields, and Gaurav Sharma in London, who previously worked as senior legal counsel at Shell.

Client comment

Nick Trevelyan, in-house counsel at Eni – part of a consortium of oil companies using Three Crowns in an UNCITRAL arbitration – says the firm seamlessly combines resources from its Paris and London offices. He praises partner Constantine Partasides for having the ability to “cut through the noise” to bring clarity to the most complex subjects.

A former consultant to the attorney general of an Asian state had occasion to use Three Crowns for a state-to-state treaty dispute of “vital strategic importance” to the country. He said the firm was “proficient, knowledgeable and timely in their representation” and singled out Jan Paulsson and Luke Sobota as “first-class lawyers, but more than that, a pleasure to be around”.

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