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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Sidley Austin

05 April 2019

Instructed by a Qatari broadcaster for a billion-dollar claim against Saudi Arabia over pirate TV networks

People in Who's Who Legal 4
People in Future Leaders 2
Pending cases as counsel 164
Value of pending counsel work US$79 billion+
Treaty cases 13
Current arbitrator appointments 19 (12 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 5

Sidley Austin earned its international arbitration stripes around 2002. In that year, it absorbed trade and investment disputes boutique Powell Goldstein in Geneva and Washington, DC. The new members of the firm, in particular Daniel Price, were among the first to evangelise the use of bilateral investment treaties.

Price, who also worked in the US government, left the firm in 2011 to become a noteworthy independent arbitrator, but the Sidley practice has gone from strength to strength.

Early on, the practice scooped a number of investment treaty arbitrations, in addition to major World Trade Organization disputes work. It won one of the longest and most procedurally complex arbitrations against Argentina of the time (US$200 million, for Vivendi) and became a bigger name in the area. Price’s team on these cases included Stanimir Alexandrov, who went on to take the lead in much of the firm’s investor-state work.

Sidley’s commercial arbitration practice was kickstarted by the arrival in Geneva of two partners (US-trained Marc Palay from Winston & Strawn, and David Roney from Schellenberg Wittmer, both long-time residents in Switzerland). That side of the practice expanded considerably after they joined.

In 2013, Benno Kimmelman – a commercial arbitration specialist known for Latin American and energy work – joined the New York office from Allen & Overy. And in London, the team was joined by Matthew Shankland from Weil Gotshal & Manges, who has acted on high-profile disputes arising from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, including complex derivatives arbitrations.

The group’s Asia offering received a boost with the hire in 2016 of Friven Yeoh and his team in Hong Kong from O’Melveny & Myers.

Practice co-head Alexandrov retired from the firm in 2017 to focus on his increasingly prolific work as arbitrator, leaving the practice to be steered by Kimmelman, Palay and DC-based partner Marinn Carlson.

Network

The key offices for international arbitration are Geneva, New York, DC and London, with other members in Hong Kong, Singapore, Los Angeles and San Francisco. There’s also a Dallas office, staffed by ex-Weil Gotshal lawyers, with a high turnover of oil and gas-related work.

Who uses it?

Sidley Austin is the kind of place that blue-chip companies – such as Philip Morris and Airbus – go to when they have “global” trade issues that require a multi-pronged attack. It also does a lot of work for governments, particularly in Latin America, and investors in BIT cases. On top of that it’s becoming popular for CIS-related commercial cases, in Europe.

Clients include Atomstroyexport (a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom), Berkeley HeartLab, Formosa Plastics, GATX Corporation and Russian aluminium producer Rusal.

It’s acting for US private equity group LoneStar in a US$2.5 billion claim against South Korea; and for France’s Veolia in a €100 million claim against Lithuania over renewable energy services. Calgary-based energy company TransCanada retained it for a US$15 billion NAFTA claim against the United States over a controversial project to expand the Keystone oil pipeline, though the case was dropped after a newly elected President Trump approved the project.

On the state side, it’s acted for Costa Rica, Peru, Turkey and China (which has added it to the panels of law firms it uses for investment and trade matters).

Notably it’s also acted for arbitral institutions such as the ICC and ICSID (representing the latter in US court proceedings when it was sued by US oil investor Jack Grynberg).

Track record

A team in Geneva and DC helped Atomstroyexport win €600 million in an ICC claim against Bulgaria’s national electricity company NEK – a politically sensitive dispute over a nuclear power plant that also gave rise to the threat of a treaty claim. NEK (represented by White & Case) paid the award in 2016.

In the following year, it helped Peru to escape the bulk of a US$522 million treaty claim brought by Canadian mining company Bear Creek. A tribunal awarded the company only US$30 million, representing its sunk costs in a silver mine concession.

Other eye-catching results have included a hat-trick of wins for Rusal in a long-running feud with Tajikistan’s state-owned aluminium company, Talco. The most significant of these was a US$275 million award for Rusal subsidiary Hamer Investment against Talco in 2013, a case heard under the Swiss Rules.

The same team helped another Rusal affiliate, Albaco, win US$71 million in an ICC case against a Talco shell company, CDH, defeating a mirror case brought against it at the SCC.

The New York office has also had wins for Trinidad and Tobago’s national oil company Petrotrin, including defeating a US$228 million LCIA claim by US investor World GTL in 2014.

In the investment treaty arena, the firm helped Turkey to defeat a US$100 million Energy Charter Treaty claim by Dutch investor Alapli Elektrik in 2012.

It helped Peru put an end to a pair of mammoth ICSID claims by French national Renée Levy. A US$7 billion claim over her family’s investments in a liquidated bank was rejected in 2014. A year later, her US$41 billion claim over real estate investments was thrown as an abuse of process.

In another ICSID case in 2015, it obtained a US$65 million award for Peruvian state agency Perupetro in a dispute with the Camisea consortium over royalties on gas exports from the country’s largest natural gas project. Sidley Austin was later instructed by a consortium led by the US’s Hunt Oil for a related ICC claim against the Camisea consortium.

Recent events

Qatari state-backed sports broadcaster beIN instructed the firm for a billion-dollar investment treaty claim against Saudi Arabia over its failure to crack down on one of the world’s largest pirate television networks, as well as other measures that followed the suspension of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The firm is defending Peru in two new ICSID cases at ICSID: one filed by Argentine-Peruvian consortium over the cancellation of US$525 million contract to build and operate an airport for tourists travelling to Machu Picchu, and another filed by a Spanish construction company seeking more than US$100 million in damages for delays to a project to improve a stretch of the Pan-American Highway. 

Alongside Alexandrov, the firm continues to defend Colombia in an €1.3 billion ICSID claim filed by Spanish energy company Naturgy over defaulted electricity payments. Colombia has reportedly lodged a US$500 million counterclaim.  

Dana MacGrath, who joined the New York office with Kimmelman from Allen & Overy in 2013, was promoted to partner at the start of 2019. Shortly afterwards, she left the firm to join New York-based litigation funder Bentham IMF.

The firm’s former global co-head of complex disputes and litigation, Dorothy Cory-Wright, left to lead the London commercial disputes practice at Dechert.

Client comment

Vaiva Degutienė of Vilniaus energija, a subsidiary of Veolia, says that Marinn Carlson is “intelligent and bright” and always “reacts quickly” to the developments in the case.

Another lawyer using the firm said Dorothee Schramm from Sidley’s Geneva office is “the most proactive and responsive outside counsel I have worked with in my long career as in-house counsel.”

Nicolas Gregoire of Geneva-headquartered SGS Société Générale de Surveillance, who used the firm for a commercial arbitration in relation to grain cargoes in Russia, said David Roney was “very sharp and leaves nothing to chance.”

William Spiegelberger, head of the international practice unit at Rusal in Moscow, commends Sidley’s performance on the Tajikistan cases. “Cross-examination at the hearing was particularly accomplished, and stood in marked contrast to what opposing counsel was able to do.”

Kevin Fillip, associate general counsel of STMicroelectronics, similarly notes the firm’s skill in cross-examination and says that Palay’s leadership was “superb”.

Natalia Artamonova of Atomstroyexport calls Palay “brilliant”.

Efraín Laureano at the United States Agency for International Development commends Sidley Austin’s “professionalism, effectiveness and commitment” in helping to drafting a new Mongolian arbitration law.

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