Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the now-defunct New York firm that served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, William W Park, Julian Lew QC and W Laurence Craig, to name but a few).
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$61 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 26 (of which 15 are as sole or chair) )
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005, six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert. They were joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer. That Dechert has since risen steadily up the rankings, particularly in Paris, should come as no surprise, as the Coudert practice also enjoyed that kind of status in its day. The arbitration lawyers are exceptionally well regarded as academics in their own right, with two of them in particular in considerable demand as arbitrators. Pierre Mayer has been described, in print, as France’s smartest man.
Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the last few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Washington, DC, Hong Kong and, most recently, Moscow. The DC recruit was Anne-Marie Whitesell, who had just stepped down after six years as secretary general of the ICC court. The firm has a particularly strong offer to make on ICC work, as Eduardo Silva Romero is also a former deputy secretary general of the court. A Colombian national, Silva Romero has appeared in GAR’s “45 under 45” and is the driving force behind Dechert’s increasingly busy Latin American casework – the firm is now home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish speakers in the French market. The most recent partner hire was Ivan Marisin in Moscow, formerly head of Clifford Chance’s Russia and CIS arbitration practice.
The arbitration practice is concentrated in Paris, DC, London, Hong Kong and Moscow, though the firm also has bases in Dublin, Brussels, Luxembourg, Munich and Beijing, along with its 11 US offices.
Who uses It?
States and state-owned entities are frequent users of the practice. Taiwan’s government and navy retained the firm for a high-profile ICC claim against French defence contractor Thales involving allegations of kickbacks. Spanish shipbuilder Navantia used it as co-counsel in a submarine dispute with another French contractor. A couple of left-leaning Latin American governments are happy customers, it seems, and account for the bulk of the 10 or so treaty claims the firm says it has picked up in the past two years. Ecuador is using it for three high-stakes ICSID claims brought by oil companies Occidental, Burlington (a ConocoPhillips subsidiary) and Perenco, and a further two UNCITRAL claims by mining and telecoms investors. Bolivia meanwhile ditched its former counsel in favour of Dechert’s Paris office, which it’s been using for an assortment of claims, some of which have since settled. Other clients of note include France Telecom in its recently resolved shares dispute with Egypt’s Orascom and French investment company Eurazeo in a US$150 million post-M&A dispute.
The Thales case made the headlines in 2010, when an ICC tribunal ordered the French side to pay Dechert’s client €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling). Depending on your point of view, the firm also scored a victory for France Télécom in a complicated dispute with Orascom for control of Egyptian mobile network Mobinil. An ICC tribunal found in favour of France Télécom in 2009 and ordered Orascom to sell its stake in Mobinil. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom was advising Orascom. (The sale didn’t happen in the end – the Egyptian government brokered a settlement last April under rather different terms, with France Télécom paying Orascom US$300 million.)
A table for dispute resolution in France puts Dechert in the second tier, alongside Cleary Gottlieb, Derains & Gharavi, Gide Loyrette Nouel and White & Case (only Freshfields and Shearman & Sterling make the top tier). Another guide puts them on the third rung for Latin American work – on a par with Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling and Shearman.
Dechert replaced Foley Hoag as counsel to Bolivia in three treaty claims at the start of 2010, and was soon instructed for a fourth. Two of these have now ended in settlement – an expropriation claim by a Dutch subsidiary of Telecom Italia, which had originally been heard at ICSID before migrating to an ad hoc proceeding; and a claim at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, brought by a German-Peruvian hydrocarbons consortium. The remaining cases, both at ICSID, have been brought by Chilean chemicals company Quiborax (the case is already notorious for Bolivia’s attempt to have all three arbitrators disqualified on grounds of bias) and, most recently, Argentina’s Pan American Energy.
The firm was pleased with a jurisdictional ruling in June by the Burlington Resources v Ecuador tribunal, which threw out the majority of the oil company’s claims relating to a 99 per cent tax on windfall profits. An expropriation claim will proceed to the merits, however.
Dechert’s client Navantia settled a dispute with French naval defence contractor DCNS over submarine technology – the terms remain confidential. The firm also says it helped a Middle Eastern chemicals company win a dispute, worth tens of millions of dollars, with a European research and manufacturing company.
The practice continues to expand, with ex-Clifford Chance partner Ivan Marisin and two old colleagues – counsel Vasily Kuznetsov and associate Alexander Siderov – coming on board to run a new Moscow office. At their old firm Marisin and Kuznetsov helped Russian state-owned uranium supplier Tenex defeat a billion-dollar claim by the US’ Globe Nuclear Services and Supply, and win a US$6 million costs award. At Dechert they work alongside counsel Oxana Peters, another recent hire from Salans.
There were four associate-level hires in the Paris office: Florian Grisel, Ella Rosenberg, Maria-Claudia de Assis Procopiak and Hafez Virjee. Procopiak, who is dual-qualified in Brazilian and French law, comes with three years’ experience as deputy counsel of the Latin America and Iberian peninsula team at the ICC Court. Virjee trained at Freshfields in London and Paris, and is a solicitor of England and Wales. Another associate, Colombian José Caicedo, left to take up a position with another firm.