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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Watson Farley Williams

05 April 2019

Expanding to the Middle East with a new Dubai office

Pending cases as counsel 53
Value of pending counsel work US$2.3 billion
Treaty cases 3
Third-party funded cases 7
Current arbitrator appointments 2 (1 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 2

Founded in 1982 as a breakaway from Norton Rose, the firm initially focused its attention on shipping and offshore construction disputes.

In the early 2000s, a group led by two partners in London helped establish the firm’s name in international arbitration. They won a pitch to represent India in the state’s first investment treaty arbitration and later brought in Vivendi as a client in a dispute with Deutsche Telekom over control of a Polish telecoms firm. During the same era, the Singapore office began to develop a local name for expertise in the field.

Apart from Andrew Hutcheon – one of the partners on the Vivendi matter – all of the senior partners from that period have been poached by other practices, but the arbitration group they built has endured in the hands of the younger partners who worked under them.

The group – led by litigation and arbitration head Andrew Savage since 2007 – has expanded in recent years with lateral hires in London, Paris and Bangkok.

Network

The practice continues to have a strong presence in London and South-East Asia (Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore) and a new office in Dubai, with the ability to call on colleagues in New York, Hamburg, Rome and Paris.

Who uses it?

The firm has worked for India, Pakistan, Zambia, Greece and Bangladesh in the past few years, and has advised the Bahamas on its arbitration legislation.

Corporate clients include banks, energy businesses and metals companies. The firm has advised Hydro Aluminium, Höegh LNG, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Vivendi, Trafigura, drilling contractor Aban Offshore, Ford and AIG.

US mobile satellite operator Globalstar used the firm (in an ICDR claim against France’s Thales Alenia Space), as did a Mauritian subsidiary of a UK-listed company in a US$100 million SIAC case over a broadcast licence agreement.

Track record

The firm helped Pakistan prevail in 2010 in the final round of the Dallah dispute – in which the UK Supreme Court refused to enforce an ICC award against the firm’s client. It was a rare example of the English courts refusing to enforce an award under the New York Convention. It earned the firm (along with its appointed barrister, Toby Landau QC of Essex Court Chambers) the “Court Win of the Year” award at the GAR Awards in 2011.

The firm also helped Hydro Aluminium secure an LCIA award in a row with Tajikistan and defended an Iranian offshore construction company against a US$100 million ICC claim by an Italian counterparty.

There have been a number of successes in cases relating to Thailand. These include wins for a renewables consultancy against a Dutch dairy products producer; and a major Thai paper manufacturer in the liability phase of a US$50 million HKIAC case against a Chinese state-owned machinery maker. It also helped the operators of the largest petrochemical refinery in Thailand win 21 awards against a Hong Kong company, which were upheld in the English courts 2015.

It helped client MRI Trading enforce a London Metal Exchange arbitration award, also obtaining a worldwide freezing order and asset disclosure orders. The dispute settled in early 2017.

It acted for a Thai tin-can manufacturer in a US$70 million UNCITRAL claim against a multinational food company over a manufacturing agreement, and for a Chinese supplier in a US$42 million ICC claim over a power plant. The matter has moved to final award proceedings, with damages of US$20 million being paid without need for enforcement proceedings.

Recent events

The firm’s Italian office is currently representing Belenergia, a Luxembourg investor in solar power plants, in Energy Charter Treaty claims against Italy relating to reforms to the country’s renewable energy regime. It is the first ICSID arbitration concerning the “Spalma Incentivi” decree, relating to tariffs and photovoltaic plants.

The Italian team is also helping Chinese investment company Jiangsu Zongyi defend a €32 million ICC award in the Milanese courts in a dispute with a local construction company over Italy’s largest rooftop photovoltaic plant.

It acted for a Thai tin can manufacturer in a US$70 million UNCITRAL claim againt a multinational food company over a manufacturing agreement. The firm is also advising a Thai power supplier against a Chinese contractor and guarantor company in a US$100 million arbitration in Singapore under SIAC rules.

Another case where the firm is advising concerns an arbitration between environmental services firm ARS International and a seller of shares in a Pakistani power company, with damages of US$120 million. The arbitration will be heard in Singapore under SIAC rules.

It is close to concluding a portfolio funding arrangement, which would make £25 million in funding available to finance arbitrations.

After opening an office in Dubai in 2014, the firm launched a disputes practice there in 2018 with the hire of former Baker & McKenzie arbitration head Charlotte Bijlani. The office is now representing an American bank in arbitration.

It also added Thomas Ross as a partner based in London. Ross joined from US firm Ropes & Gray.

Client comment

“We have several legal firms working for us, some very well-known internationally, however WFW service is by far a better quality,” Uzoma Correia, who works at Total E&P Angola’s Kaombo project, said.

“WFW helped us in a settlement of a multi-billion claim. The service was beyond industry standard. We are extremely satisfied.”

Correia singled out Marcus Gordon for his performance and availability, and called him “a real asset for the industry.”

Another client said WFW had a very “human-like approach” and said they were very creative in “developing the strategy that helped us avoid arbitration.”

One client was impressed by the firm’s approach to cost management and client management.

WFW’s cost management was “very impressive,” said Petrofac Senior Legal Counsel for the Middle East Andrew Kirk.

On the client management side, WFW’s approach “allowed me to report back seamlessly with regular consistent messages to the internal stakeholders.”

He praised Dubai partner Charlotte Bijlani for her “clear, consistent messages from both a costs/scheduling perspective and also with strategy advice.”

Insight

Reviews

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

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The Asia-Pacific Arbitration Review 2020

Highlights

DCF: Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

Montek Mayal and Alexander Davie

FTI Consulting

Distinction and Connection: Hong Kong and Mainland China, a View from the HKIAC

Sarah Grimmer

Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre