The Austrian firm has a new practice head
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Wolf Theiss was established in Vienna more than 55 years ago. The firm is now made up of some 340 lawyers, based in 13 countries across central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Christoph Liebscher’s arrival at the firm in 1997 contributed greatly to the growth of the arbitration practice. A renowned name in the field as counsel and arbitrator, Liebscher left to set up on his own in 2014.
The leadership of the practice has changed a few more times since then. Florian Haugeneder, who took over as head of arbitration after Liebscher’s departure, left the firm in 2016 along with partner Bettina Knötzl to start a new firm, called Knoetzl.
Following those departures, Clemens Trauttenberg in Vienna assumed the leadership and oversaw a 2016 relaunch of the practice that emphasised its regional reach and focus on investment arbitration and energy, telecoms and construction disputes.
In 2018, the firm announced the hire of Stefan Riegler from Baker McKenzie’s Vienna office, who has become the new head of international arbitration. He brings experience in post-M&A, banking, competition, insolvency and energy disputes and is a member of the ICC’s commission on arbitration and ADR. He also serves as arbitrator.
Other names to know include Vienna-based counsels Ceyda Akbal Schwimann and Valentina Wong who both joined in 2016. Schwimann is a Turkish attorney also qualified in the UK and has ICSID experience, and Wong advises Chinese clients and is often appointed as arbitrator in disputes involving Chinese parties.
The arbitration practice is focused in Vienna, with capability in Budapest, Kiev, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw, Zagreb and other cities in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Who uses it?
The firm’s clients include Danish-Polish Telecommunication Group, Hungarian oil and gas group MOL, Shell, ExxonMobil, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Red Bull, German retailer Metro Group, and the Strauss Group.
Belgian power company Electrabel used it (alongside Clifford Chance) for a €700 million Energy Charter Treaty claim against Hungary. It has also advised Hungarian and Croatian oil and gas companies in ICC proceedings against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Danish-Polish Telecommunication Group called on Wolf Theiss when it needed to bring UNCITRAL claims against various opponents over a miscalculation in revenue – and won nearly €400 million in a partial award in 2010, which Wolf Theiss successfully defended in the Vienna courts. DPTG eventually received €550 million in a 2012 settlement.
The firm also tasted success in a high-stakes case for the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, which faced allegations of collusion in a US$110 million arbitration with a Cayman company. The case related to a joint venture in Uzbekistan and was widely reported in the press – posing a serious threat to Coca-Cola’s reputation. The 2009 award saw all corruption charges against the client dismissed.
In 2016, the firm helped an Indian affiliate of Dubai-based duty-free store operator Flemingo International win more than €20 million in an investment treaty claim against Poland relating to the termination of leases for duty-free shops in a Warsaw airport.
Partner Dalibor Valincˇic´ in the Zagreb office was part of a co-counsel team that successfully defended Hungary’s MOL against an UNCITRAL claim brought by the Croatian government. The Balkan state had sought to nullify an agreement relating to a valuable oil and gas joint venture on the grounds that MOL had paid bribes to Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader. An UNCITRAL tribunal threw out all the claims in 2016, and the award was upheld by the Swiss courts.
Stefan Riegler co-chaired the second annual GAR Live Vienna.
Valentina Wong completed her term as co-chair of the Young Austrian Arbitration Practitioners and has been replaced by Filip Boras, head of Baker McKenzie’s arbitration team in Vienna.
The firm hired two new senior associates – Alexander Zollner, who joined the Vienna office with Riegler from Baker McKenzie, and Artur Tamasi in Budapest.
One client tells GAR that he was very satisfied with the firm’s handling of a significant energy-related arbitration. He says the team “were dedicated to do their best”, “took great efforts”, and “came up with creative ideas.”
He singles out Budapest-partners Zoltán Faludi for his “strategic guidance” and László Kenyeres for his “innovative view”.
He adds that the team’s “unique strength” is that it is equally good in energy law as it is in dispute resolution.