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GAR 100 - 4th Edition

Clifford Chance LLP

18 February 2011

In the mid-1980s, Clifford Chance was one of the first Anglo-Saxon law firms to carve out international arbitration as a separate department.

People in Who’s Who:
4
Pending cases as counsel:
70
Value of pending counsel work:
US$36.2 billion
Treaty cases:
4
Current arbitrator appointments:
16 (of which 7 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
9

Legend has it that members of Clifford Chance and Freshfields coordinated so each could propose the idea to management – and then point to the other to give it impetus. Whatever the truth, that model – truly innovative in its day – has been widely copied.

That decision, over the next 15 years, turned into one of the largest international arbitration groups of the late 1990s and early 2000s, home to many of the rising stars. The firm had clusters of specialists in London, Paris, New York and more recently Moscow.

Since then, a combination of factors have conspired to slim the operation back down. John Beechey, who founded the group and led it, left to be the chairman of the ICC Court. He was in fact following on the heels of Jason Fry, the firm’s main arbitration partner in Paris, who had left a little earlier to become the ICC’s secretary general job (cue jokes about the “CC” in ICC).

Latterly, the group has also said goodbye to some senior figures in Europe, the US and Moscow – an effect, in part, of the financial crisis. A US partner joked to a reporter last year that the Clifford Chance US litigation department “is doing great. It’s just working for someone else.”

Nevertheless the Clifford Chance arbitration team continues to be a major player, commanding the respect of peers and loyalty of clients, particularly oil companies. The slimming down in Europe and North America has been partly offset by investment in an arbitration team in Asia.

Who uses it?

Shell is one major client. It turned to Clifford Chance for a pair of linked matters against Nigeria, including a BIT claim, that are being watched closely by other firms in a similar position. Clifford Chance is becoming one of the firms to retain for Nigerian disputes. Other clients include Citibank, BNP Paribas, Morgan Stanley and Crescent Petroleum. In the treaty arbitration sphere the group has an extensive track record – it’s represented Electrabel and the government of Poland, among others.

Big wins

In 2007, a blend of lawyers from its Moscow, Paris and London offices pulled off one of the results of the year. They defeated a claim valued at several billion dollars against a Russian nuclear fuels business that had interrupted its supply. Their client not only won, it received US$6 million in legal costs.

More recently, the firm managed to close down a claim of US$2 billion brought against an oil company client with a payment of US$80 million. The firm also helped tennis player Richard Gasquet overturn a drugs ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Recent events

In late 2009, the firm took advantage of a newly-obtained Singapore licence to start an arbitration team in Asia. It recruited Nish Shetty as a lateral partner from the Wong Partnership, giving him a team of six associates. Shetty undertakes court work as well as arbitration.

This year the main development is the move of Nicholas Munday, head of contentious work to Moscow, for an indeterminate period. Munday is running the Moscow operation for Dechert, following the departure of a senior partner and key player on many recent arbitrations. As this book went to press, it emerged that the firm’s “best friends” agreement with Indian firm AZB & Partners had come to an end.

2010 also saw the firm’s global head of arbitration, Audley Sheppard, complete his stint as co-chair of the IBA’s international arbitration committee. He’s now accepted an invite to join the LCIA Court, meaning he serves on both the ICC and LCIA courts. He was invited to be the opponent of Toby Landau QC in a debate at the GAR Live event in October – where his performance was viewed as one of the day’s highlights.

On the work front, there was evidence that the group’s reputation for Nigerian disputes is cementing, when a well-known Asian national oil company asked the firm to develop a claim towards the end of the year.

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