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GAR 100 - 4th Edition

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

18 February 2011

Cleary Gottlieb was one of the first US firms to venture outside home territory – led initially by work on the reconstruction of post-war Europe.

People in Who’s Who:
1
Pending cases as counsel:
60
Value of pending counsel work:
US$70 billion*
Treaty cases:
20
Current arbitrator appointments:
9** (of which 3 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
5

It has gone on to become central to any number of governments’ financial affairs. In the process it also became one of the first US firms to become comfortable making lawyers who were educated in civil law and other legal systems equal partners. Indeed, it’s easy to forget now that it was, once upon a time, a purely US firm.

Its international mindset, network and reputation for academic excellence meant it was sought out early on for big arbitrations. Nowadays its arbitration docket is bigger than ever. It was Cleary Gottlieb to whom Russia turned, for example, when the Yukos matter begat various arbitrations. Similarly, the firm found itself retained by Argentina when a group of angry bondholders decided to try using the ICSID system to bring a form of “class action” claim.

Cleary Gottlieb is different from some, however, in having never created an arbitration department. The firm in fact has a strict no-departments rule. Another difference is the lack of a dominant individual – someone akin to, say, Jan Paulsson, Emmanuel Gaillard or Gary Born.

Network

Cleary Gottlieb has offices in 12 cities, including Paris, London and Brussels. It’s Italian offices are especially well thought of by local corporations.

Who uses it?

Cleary Gottlieb is a popular choice for sovereign states engaged in arbitration. Those who’ve used it include Japan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Argentina. On the corporate side, ETI, Sky Italia, Finmeccanica, Arcelor-Mittal, Daewoo, LG Philips, Fresh Del Monte, YPF and Citigroup are all recent clients.

Big wins

There have been a couple of standout results in recent years. In one, Cleary Gottlieb lawyers held Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, led by Nigel Blackaby, to the equivalent of a score-draw in one of Brazil’s more vicious corporate shareholder battles (for control of a telecoms firm). Despite the fact the battle became – in one person’s telling – “exceptionally complicated”, the former opponents now hold each other in utmost respect.

The firm has also recently done good work on behalf of Agfa-Gevaert – knocking out a series of related claims – and for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the African state, it managed to knock out an oil company’s claim on the basis that the underlying contract was tainted by corruption.

Recent events

2010 proved quiet in personnel terms. The chief development was the arrival of a former head of financial litigation from Simmons & Simmons in London.

On the work side, the firm received news that it had failed to strike out the Yukos-related arbitration. The arbitrators ruled in January 2010 that the case will go to a merits phase. More successfully, the Paris office helped Argentina to block attempts to enforce an ICSID award against some real-estate holdings.

2009, however, was busy. That year Cleary Gottlieb moved Jonathan Blackman – described by a colleague as “the common denominator” in all the firm’s major recent cases – to London, where he’s expected to be for around five years. It also promoted Claudia Annacker, a public international law specialist (and professor at the University of Vienna), to partner and Roland Ziadé, a rising star, to counsel. Ziadé, who is admitted to practise in Beirut and speaks Arabic, also became a member of the ICC court in 2009.

* includes Yukos claims.

** excludes 20 or so CAS matters

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