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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

DLA Piper

05 April 2018

Helped East Timor defeat an ICSID claim and settle a maritime boundary dispute

People in Who’s Who Legal 4
People in Future Leaders 4
Pending cases as counsel 171
Value of pending counsel work US$105 billion
Treaty cases 14
Current arbitrator appointments
39 (of which 12 are 
as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator  14

DLA Piper has had various guises over the years but dates back to 1821. The DLA brand was created at the turn of the millennium in the UK, while the incarnation of the firm we know today is the product of various mergers with US law firms in the second part of the 2000s.

The result of these mergers – and a seemingly relentless expansion – is one of the world’s largest law firms by revenue, with lawyers nearly everywhere and financial results that are the envy of many.

That kind of business model generates plenty of scope for cross-border disputes work, and the firm has developed sizeable arbitration teams in London, New York and Hong Kong, among other places.

The current global practice group began to take shape in 2001 with the arrival of Matthew Saunders, who was hired to develop a wider group in the area. He became co-chair of the international arbitration practice in 2006 alongside Claudia Salomon, who joined the New York office in that year from Squire Sanders. (Both have since left the firm, Salomon to Latham & Watkins in 2013 and Saunders to Ashurst in 2016.)

The team expanded as it took over new operations and made lateral hires aimed at gaps in its coverage. One of those was former Debevoise & Plimpton high-flyer Michael Ostrove in Paris, to help deal with an increase in work under ICC rules.

The group also enjoyed a whole new level of visibility in 2010 when it became adviser to the Russian side in arbitrations that flowed from the Russia–Ukraine gas wars of 2008 and 2009. It has recently followed this up with a stream of cases for Gazprom against Ukraine’s Naftogaz.

Following Saunders’ exit, Ostrove chairs the global practice. Ernest Yang coordinates the practice in Asia, while partner Henry Quinlan in Dubai handles the Middle East. Cedric Chao in San Francisco leads the Americas practice.


Almost too big to cover here. In arbitration terms, the more important offices are London, Paris, New York, Singapore and Dubai – but it’s in a whole lot of other places too. In Australia, for example, a merger with Phillips Fox added a Perth-based mining disputes team. It also has an arrangement with Venezuelan law firm InterJuris Abogados.

It’s continued to expand in the Americas, completing tie-ups in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and, more recently, Chile and Peru.

A 2017 tie-up with a Danish firm has added to its offering in Helsinki, Oslo and Stockholm.

Alliances with local firms have given it a presence in a further 18 jurisdictions, including most recently Tunisia, Senegal and Nigeria.

Who uses it?

As mentioned, the firm has had regular business from Russian gas suppliers – especially Gazprom, for whom it has been acting in a set of SCC cases against Ukraine’s Naftogaz worth over US$70 billion. Another energy client is Unión Fenosa Gas, a joint venture between Spain’s Gas Natural and Italy’s Eni.

It advises one of China’s largest shipbuilders, Jiangsu Rongsheng Heavy Industries, and has acted for state-owned oil company Sinopec. Another Chinese client is television company StarTimes in a US$200 million ICC claim against Ghana.

Work in 2003 for the Indian government on a BIT case (the Dabhol dispute) was leveraged into a treaty arbitration practice. Government clients now include Georgia (in several matters), Thailand, Ghana, Guinea, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Oman, Kenya and East Timor.

On the investor side, the firm acted for Turkish telecoms company Turkcell in a US$2 billion claim against Iran.

The firm is generally popular with any client that prefers its lawyers to be locally based rather than “fly in, fly out”. Energy and telecoms firms can be particularly hot on this.

Track record

The firm won two substantial payouts for Gazprom subsidiary RosUkrEnergo. The first award against Ukrainian state entity Naftogaz, worth US$2.6 billion, concerned ownership of gas that was held in storage in Ukraine and allegedly acquired by the Tymoshenko regime. DLA Piper fielded a team from Moscow, London, Kiev and Stockholm. The case spawned litigation in the courts of Ukraine and New York.

The other award, worth US$500 million, was against Hungarian gas distributor Emfesz. That was worked on by DLA lawyers from London, Moscow, Kiev, Warsaw and Budapest, assisted by members of Swedish firm Setterwalls.

In 2013, the firm won a large gas-pricing dispute for Italian utility Edison in an ICC arbitration in Paris, worth €300 million to the client. It also achieved a favourable settlement for Albania’s former state-owned telecoms operator following a €120 million ICC claim involving issues of Albanian, Greek and German law.

The firm has a good track record of defence wins for states. At ICSID, it helped Oman prevail in the state’s first-ever investment treaty case – seeing off a US$273 million claim over a limestone concession and winning costs.

DLA Piper also helped the Czech Republic defeat a claim brought by a German investor in a championship golf course. In another case in 2014, it helped Ghana knock out all but US$12 million of a US energy company’s US$3 billion UNCITRAL claim.

The firm helped Indian billionaire Niranjan Hiranandani defeat a £450 million LCIA claim by two real estate companies that accused him of fraudulently inducing them to make failed investments in four Indian township projects.

It also advised Hiranandani and his son Darshan in a separate LCIA case brought by his daughter Priya Hiranandani-Vandrevala, which led to a US$60 million award in her favour.

Recent events

A team in Brisbane helped East Timor defeat an ICSID claim brought by an Australian energy company – in which the state alleged that the claimant had relied on “fabricated” emails to establish

Partner Janet Legrand in London helped East Timor reach a landmark agreement with Australia on the “central elements” of a permanent maritime boundary that could affect the fate of an estimated US$40 billion in oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The long-running dispute had given rise to a rare “compulsory conciliation” proceeding in The Hague.

A Paris team helped London-based energy services company TechnipFMC settle a US$1.5 billion arbitration against Algerian state entiy Sonatrach relating to a refinery upgrade, on confidential terms.

After years of wrangling, the firm convinced a Swedish court to block US businessman Carl Sax’s efforts to revive a US$460 million UNCITRAL claim against the Russian city of St Petersburg. DLA’s Stockholm and St Petersburg offices also acted in the arbitration.

A Stockholm Chamber of Commerce tribunal issued an award in a gas supply dispute between Gazprom and Naftogaz, with both sides claiming victory. Naftogaz says the award means it will save US$71 billion over the life of the contract. DLA Piper’s client Gazprom has ridiculed this, saying the award requires Naftogaz to pay it more than US$2 billion or face daily fines. A second arbitration under a gas transit contract is pending before the same tribunal. In both cases, DLA Piper is working alongside Swedish firm Vinge.

The firm’s Bucharest office paired with Three Crowns to represent Chevron in an ICC claim against Romania concerning the termination of three shale gas concessions. The US oil company’s claims were dismissed and Romania was awarded US$73 million. As co-counsel with Orrick, DLA Piper continues to defend Guinea in a pair of ICSID claims worth US$5 billion brought by companies linked to Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz over the revocation of mining licences following a bribery probe. Hearings took place in May 2017 and were streamed live on the ICSID website.

It has been acting for Belgian clothing investors Peter and Kristof de Sutter for a fresh ICSID claim against Madagascar, following the French courts’ refusal to reinstate an ICC award in their favour.

Hungary is using the firm in its attempt to annul a €23 million ICSID award in favour of French corporate services provider Edenred.

On the people side, it hired partners Oscar Franco in Madrid, Olga Vorozhbyt in Kiev and Saad El Mernissi in Casablanca.

There were four promotions to partner: Radu Balas in Bucharest, Edward Shaw in London and Dubai-based pair Suzannah Newboult and Wissam Dagher, and three new counsel made up: Sarah Ellington in London, Maxime Desplats in Paris and Xiaoshan Chen in Shanghai.

Client comment

Abdoulaye Magassouba from the Guinean ministry of mines says that Scott Horton, Michael Ostrove and Sârra-Tilila Bounfour are “showing an outstanding level of professional commitments and effectiveness” in their work for the state.

A client who instructed DLA Piper in a dispute of maximum importance to his company says it was the team’s dedication that impressed him the most: “No stones were left unturned until they had found the angles and issues that made the case what it ended up being, giving us the leverage we were looking for in a complicated dispute against very experienced opponents.”

DLA Piper’s fees are still below those of their competitors, with the lead partner providing “an impressive billing discipline”, the same client points out.

Another client was grateful to have London partner Kate Cervantes-Knox on side: “She had to do some difficult oral arguments before a very difficult arbitrator and she killed it, aggressively staying on top of the issue and arguing the points effectively.”

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