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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

05 April 2019

Obtained a billion-dollar award for a Ukrainian bank against Russia, the largest to date over assets expropriated after the annexation of Crimea

People in Who's Who Legal 6
People in Future Leaders 8
Pending cases as counsel 156
Value of pending counsel work US$129.3 billion
Treaty cases 26
Third-party funded cases 1
Current arbitrator appointments 28 (11 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 9

Founded in Los Angeles in 1986 as a litigation shop, Quinn Emanuel has acquired a fearsome reputation in that field – particularly for complex, high-value cases in IP (it is acting for Samsung in the smartphone wars) and financial services.

Now at more than 800 lawyers, it’s famed for a brash style and a willingness to flout convention. For instance, the firm has a casual dress code and has been quicker than most to embrace alternative fee arrangements. Those tactics seem to have paid off: a recent ranking put it second only to Wall Street firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in terms of profit per equity partner.

Until around six years ago, though, the firm made little noise in the international arbitration field.

That changed following an audacious spate of lateral hires from other GAR 100 firms. Among the most notable of these was Stephen Jagusch (now a QC), former global chair of international arbitration at Allen & Overy. He joined at the start of 2013 to lead a practice in London, bringing investment arbitration specialist Anthony Sinclair with him. The pair have worked on some high-profile ICSID cases, including the first-ever claim under the Energy Charter Treaty.

Jagusch’s decision to leave a Magic Circle firm to captain a start-up practice caused shockwaves in the arbitration community – Jan Paulsson told GAR that he could not recall “anything quite like it”.

Following that coup, Quinn Emanuel also succeeded in luring Philippe Pinsolle away from Shearman & Sterling to head a new Paris office. Pinsolle had been at Shearman for more than 20 years, working with Emmanuel Gaillard on, among other things, the Yukos case against Russia – the largest investment arbitration in history.

The hiring spree continued. In Washington, DC, it recruited Latin American arbitration specialist David Orta from Arnold & Porter, while in New York it hired Tai-Heng Cheng, an arbitrator and former professor. In Hong Kong, John Rhie from Korean firm Kim & Chang joined as head of international arbitration in Asia.

Other additions included energy specialist Ted Greeno from Herbert Smith Freehills and Nick Marsh from DLA Piper.

In 2016, it made further big-name hires: Michael Young QC in London, who had taken over as co-head of international arbitration at Allen & Overy following Jagusch’s departure; and Isabelle Michou, who had previously headed the Paris disputes practice at HSF. Both now work out of the Paris office, which is now equipped with four partners as part of a 21-attorney team. Construction-focused partner James Bremen also joined the London office from HSF that year.

The group continues to build remarkable momentum and is bringing in good results. A source at a rival firm told GAR he’s seen Quinn Emanuel pitching for more and more work, and winning more pitches than it loses. Managing partner John Quinn’s promise of building a “pre-eminent” international arbitration practice seems to be more than a pipedream.


The names to know are in London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Washington, DC, with other members in Los Angeles, Mannheim, Hamburg, Tokyo, Houston, Munich, Shanghai, Perth and Sydney.

Who uses it?

Acacia Mining, Anglogold Ashanti, BAE Systems, Chevron, Korea’s Daewoo International, DP World, US film production company Dreamworks, Edison and its parent EDF, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Reliance Industries, Koch Industries, French oil and gas group Maurel & Prom, Asian private equity firm MBK Partners, German drugmaker Sandoz, Samsung Electronics, Sony, Brazilian insurer SulAmérica, Total, and US rapper Jay-Z are all recent clients in arbitration matters.

At ICSID, it’s acting for companies linked to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti, owner of Leyton Orient football club.

The firm has also been retained by Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Tunisia, Panama and Mubadala (an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund), and by state-owned Qatar Rail, Sonatrach of Algeria and Oschadbank of Ukraine.

Track record

Quinn Emanuel advised ExxonMobil and Malaysia’s Petronas as members of a consortium that was ordered to pay US$77 billion in taxes on crude oil exports by a court in Chad. The firm brought an ICC arbitration against the African state and obtained provisional measures to prevent enforcement of a court decision that had required immediate payment of US$800 million. After the ICC case cleared the jurisdictional phase in 2017, the parties quietly settled the dispute.

The firm won a US$820 million LCIA award against Ukraine’s richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov in a dispute over client Raga Establishment’s sale of a telecoms company.

There have been some impressive results on behalf of UAE port operator DP World. In 2017, the firm won the complete dismissal of an LCIA claim in which the Djibouti government alleged that the company’s contract to run Africa’s largest container terminal had been procured through bribery. When Djibouti later seized the port regardless, the firm secured another LCIA award declaring the seizure to be illegal.

In 2012, Quinn Emanuel also helped DP World settle a dispute with the government of Yemen over the port of Aden that had threatened to play out in parallel investment treaty and commercial claims. The client received a lump-sum payment of US$35 million – representing 80% of what it had sought.

As co-counsel with Freshfields, the firm helped Cambodia defeat a US$300 million ICSID claim brought by a US-owned investor concerning a power plant in Phnom Penh.

Pinsolle helped French water company Saur win US$59 million in an ICSID claim against Argentina concerning an expropriated concession in Mendoza province in 2014.

It helped a Jordanian investor, Ossama Al Sharif, settle three ICSID claims against Egypt on favourable terms; and helped a central Asian state settle a US$250 million investment treaty arbitration for around 2% of what was claimed (Freshfields were on the other side).

On the commercial side, the firm helped Edison prevail in a price review claim against Italy’s Eni concerning gas supplied from Libya. In 2015, an ICC panel awarded Edison a downward price adjustment and a refund of €1 billion for gas already paid for.

Recent events

One of the firm’s biggest successes to date has been helping Ukraine’s state savings bank Oschadbank win US$1.1 billion plus interest and costs against Russia in November 2018. It is the largest award to date in the numerous cases brought by Ukrainian investors whose assets in Crimea were expropriated as a result of the Russian annexation of the territory in 2014. Quinn Emanuel paired up with Ukrainian firm Asters on the case.

It obtained a US$622 million ICDR award for Cayman entity Vantage Drilling against Brazil’s national oil and gas company Petrobras in 2018. A majority tribunal found Petrobras liable for the wrongful termination of a drilling services contract after rejecting its defence that the contract was void through bribery. Quinn Emanuel is now helping Vantage to enforce the award in the US courts, where it recently defeated Petrobras’ attempt to subpoena the dissenting arbitrator in the case. Vantage has also obtained attachments against Petrobras assets in the Netherlands.

Pinsolle helped Sonatrach prevail in a US$1.7 billion ICC arbitration with Italian contractor Saipem relating to the construction of a gas plant, obtaining a US$135 million award in the client’s favour. Sonatrach and Saipem subsequently settled the dispute along with three other ICC cases in which the firm was not involved.

The Hong Kong and Los Angeles offices helped US start-up Faraday Future, a designer of intelligent electric cars, settle a dispute with a Chinese investor – real estate group Evergrande. The case had seen two HKIAC emergency arbitrator awards.   

There was a blow for Lebanese clients Ayoub-Farid Saab and Fadi Saab, who saw their US$1.4 billion treaty claim against Cyprus dismissed by an ICC tribunal. The case concerned their investment in a bank that was shut down after US authorities accused it of involvement in money laundering and terrorism financing.

It is acting for TP Ferro, the insolvent former operator of a high-speed rail link between France and Spain, in a US$450 million dispute with the governments of those countries. Quinn Emanuel took over the matter from Ashurst.

Ukraine’s ministry of justice has retained the firm to defend the state against a US$100 million investment treaty claim by a Russian national who alleges the politically motivated expropriation of his confectionary business. 

It is acting for US investors in a pair of NAFTA cases against Mexico: a US$125 million claim concerning the cancellation of casino licences; and a US$700 million matter concerning an oil services business. A Singaporean marine services provider is also using it for a treaty claim against Mexico over the seizure of oil vessels.

David Orta is heading a team representing the estate of US businessman Julio Orlandini and his company in a treaty claim against Bolivia concerning expropriated mining concessions. Orlandini died aged 73 shortly after the tribunal was formed but the case continues. The firm has also obtained third-party discovery from the US courts in aid of the claim.

The firm is representing subsidiaries of Anglogold Ashanti in an UNCITRAL claim against Tanzania over legislative reforms in the mining sector.

James Bremen in London is representing the Qatar Foundation and Qatar Railways in two ICC cases relating to construction projects in Doha, each worth over US$1 billion. One of the cases has resulted in a partial award concluding that the foundation validly terminated a contract to build a medical facility, while requiring it to pay €44 million to the Spanish-Egyptian contractor. The other case recently saw Qatar Railways fail in a bid to disqualify a 76-year old arbitrator on the basis of his age.

Tai-Heng Cheng in New York is acting for a Chinese businessman who alleges he was defrauded and coerced into selling his stake in what is now China’s largest music-streaming service. The case is playing out in a CIETAC arbitration and has given rise to US discovery proceedings.

The firm added a third partner in Tokyo in 2019 as Tony Andriotis joined from Hughes Hubbard & Reed.

The New York team office welcomed partner Luke Nikas from Boies Schiller. He has a focus on art fraud, having helped set up the Court of Arbitration for Art. Two of counsel also joined the New York office: Hanna Roos from Latham & Watkins and Simón Navarro from White & Case. 

The firm also promoted Harold Noh in Hong Kong and Gabriel Soledad in DC to the partnership. Soledad was previously a senior trade official for the US government during the Obama administration.

Client comment

Anita Wu, legal counsel at China’s Star Communications, says the firm is well organised and works efficiently across its different offices. She reserves special praise for Hong Kong partners John Rhie and Duncan Watson, who provide solutions that are “appropriate and practical” for the company.

Bronwen de Lange, general counsel at Shaft Sinkers, praises the firm’s “most eloquent drafting of extremely technical legal documents” and “unmatched cross-border and inter-jurisdiction ability”. Even people connected to the other side praised the QE team for the best opening argument, she says.



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