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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Dechert

05 April 2019

Helped Bolivia defeat the bulk of a US$385 million claim and won new mandates from Colombia and Guatemala

People in Who's Who Legal 6
People in Future Leaders 6
Pending cases as counsel 76
Value of pending counsel work US$104 billion
Treaty cases 20
Third-party funded cases 3
Current arbitrator appointments 78 (47 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the New York firm whose Paris office served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, Rusty Park, Julian Lew QC and Laurie Craig, to name but a few).

When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005 (after the aforementioned names had long since left), six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert, joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer. Their arrival was followed by a steady rise up the rankings in Paris and more broadly. Several of the team are well regarded as academics and sit as arbitrators.

Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the past few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Moscow and Washington, DC.

The Moscow office opened in 2009, with a four-strong arbitration team from Salans. In 2011, it bolstered its Asia profile by hiring another Coudert alumnus, Jingzhou Tao, who joined in Beijing as head of Asia arbitration. In the same year, the DC office recruited Alvaro Galindo, the former director of international arbitration matters at Ecuador’s attorney general’s office.

For a long time, the practice was co-headed by Mayer and Silva Romero. Mayer left the firm in 2015 to set up as an independent arbitrator, but the group filled the gap swiftly with the lateral hire of a team from Weil Gotshal & Manges, including Arif Hyder Ali, who became the new group co-head and brought substantial investment arbitration experience.

Silva Romero is a French-Colombian national and former deputy secretary general of the ICC Court, and a former co-chair of the International Bar Association’s arbitration committee. He has spearheaded Dechert’s busy Latin American casework – the Paris office is home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish-speaking disputes lawyers in the city.

Network

The arbitration practice is mostly concentrated in Paris, London, Singapore, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington, DC, with more recent additions including Dubai, Almaty and Tbilisi. The firm’s New York office also has a strong reputation for litigation and enforcement work.

Who uses it?

Governments and government-backed entities are frequent clients. Taiwan and its navy retained it for a high-profile ICC case against French defence contractor Thales over allegations of kickbacks, while Spanish shipbuilder Navantia used it in a submarine dispute. Other clients include Hungary’s MOL and China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

The team has a good reputation among Latin American governments. Ecuador has used it on some weighty investment treaty cases and has engaged it to deal with disputes arising from the appropriation of the country’s cultural heritage. Bolivia has instructed it on various treaty cases, and it’s more recently been defending Colombia. State entities in the Dominican Republic and Paraguay have used it too.

Away from that region, Georgia, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah are clients.

Dechert also advises ExxonMobil, France Télécom, GE, Microsoft, NML Capital, Orange, Amazon, Honeywell, Total, London-listed Green Dragon Gas and Brazilian sugar cane investor Adriano Ometto.

Track record

One of the firm’s biggest recent triumphs was helping Hungarian oil and gas company MOL defeat a billion-dollar UNCITRAL claim by Croatia that involved allegations of corruption against the Balkan state’s former prime minister. The tribunal rejected the claims entirely in 2016; a parallel ICSID claim continues. Arif Ali’s old firm Weil Gotshal is co-counselling on the case.

Dechert achieved a spectacular result for Ecuador in 2015 when it persuaded an ICSID annulment committee to shave some US$700 million off an award in favour of Occidental Petroleum – the largest amount ever annulled at ICSID. Ecuador reached a final settlement with the US oil company in 2016, agreeing to pay US$980 million.

The Thales case made the headlines in 2010 when Dechert’s client Taiwan won €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the purchase of six frigates in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling).

More recently, the firm has won two further awards for Taiwan worth a combined €331 million. One award was against Thales and two other French aerospace contractors, Dassault and Safran, in a dispute over alleged improper commissions on the sale of Mirage fighter jets. The other was against an Airbus subsidiary and concerns a 1990s deal for the sale of missiles.

It’s also settled a number of cases on decent terms. Dechert helped Ecuador resolve a nine-year dispute with ConocoPhillips over the expropriation of two oil blocks. The state agreed to pay US$337 million, Conoco having originally claimed as much as US$1.5 billion. Ecuador also partly prevailed on an unusual counterclaim relating to environmental pollution in the Amazon.

The firm also helped Bolivia settle an expropriation claim by a Dutch unit of Telecom Italia for US$100 million – about 10% of what the investor had asked for.

Recent events

Dechert picked up an award at the GAR Awards as “the practice that most impressed in 2017”, in recognition of its stellar successes for Taiwan and MOL.  

The good results have continued in the past year. For Bolivia, the firm reduced a US$385 million claim by a mining company to an award of just US$18 million against the state. The claimant was compensated for its sunk costs in a silver mine project but its claim for future cash revenues was dismissed as too speculative.

The firm has been instructed by a subsidiary of Spanish construction company OHL for a US$100 million claim against Peru over delays to a project to improve a stretch of the Pan-American Highway.

Meanwhile Guatemala has retained it to defend against an UNCITRAL claim by Spanish company Iberdrola relating to the country’s electricity sector.

It is also acting for French telecoms group Orange in proceedings before a US court, requesting permission to seize a Boeing aircraft used by Equatorial Guinea’s president as it seeks to enforce the unpaid part of a €135 million ICC award against the state.

In July 2018, Sidley Austin’s global co-head of disputes Dorothy Cory-Wright joined to lead Dechert’s London disputes team. Investor-state arbitration and public international law practitioner Michelle Bradfield also joined the partnership in London.

Erica Franzetti was promoted to partner in Washington, DC.

Client comment

Pal Kara from MOL says Ali’s team is “outstanding, very focused, very client-oriented and client-friendly”. Besides praising the dedication of the team, he says Ali has “impressive strategic thinking and consideration for all the details”.

Dot Registry, which used the firm for a top-level domain name dispute with a Californian internet regulator, says Ali’s team did “an outstanding job” and calls them “brilliant lawyers ... [who] have left no stone unturned in our case”.

Adriana Vargas Saldarriaga from the Colombian ministry of trade said the government has been extremely pleased with the “quality and quickness” of the firm’s work. Silva Romero is a “problem-solver” who has mastery of his subject, she says.

Insight

Reviews

Regional analysis from arbitrators around the globe, focussing on key developments in specific industry areas and jurisdictions.

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The Middle Eastern and African Arbitration Review 2019

Highlights

CRCICA Overview

Ismail Selim and Dalia Hussein

The Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA)

DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Overview

Alec Emmerson

DIFC Arbitration Institute (DAI)

Robert Stephen, Matthew Harley and Katy Hacking

DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre