Those acquainted with the international arbitration practice at Latham & Watkins will not be surprised by its impressive ranking in this year’s GAR 30. The firm has strength in depth in the US, Europe and Asia, and combines commercial arbitration with an impressive public international law practice spearheaded by Robert Volterra, who divides his time between London and Paris.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$10 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 2 (of which 1 are as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Eight partners – or 40 lawyers, depending on how you like to count these things – make up the arbitration group at Latham & Watkins. The practice is present in several US cities, as well as Paris, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Madrid, Hong Kong and Tokyo. The largest office – in terms of numbers – is London, where the group was formed in around 2004-2005 with two lateral hires: Robert Volterra from Herbert Smith and Philip Clifford from Clifford Chance. The growth in London has continued this year, with the promotion of Stephen Fietta to partner and the addition of six associates as senior and junior levels.
Latham & Watkins hasn’t always fared as well in the rankings as client reports (see below) suggest it should. It gets its strongest reviews for its public international law practice, which one book places in the top rank. The arbitration group is listed in the third band of a UK survey. “We get a rough deal in directories,” Mark Beckett told GAR, suggesting that the high reputations of the firm’s partners were not reflected in the overall picture. He added that the client reviews were gratifying since the firm prides itself on being strategically smarter, and sometimes staffs cases more leanly than opposing law firms.
On the commercial side, Philip Clifford and Rachel Thorn led a team that recorded a notable success on behalf of a Spanish-French technology company in an ICC arbitration under Spanish law. The dispute arose after Latham & Watkins’ client discovered that a company that it had acquired had been engaged in widespread accounting fraud. It brought a claim for fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation against the sellers. The tribunal in London upheld the claim and awarded €25 million in damages. Latham & Watkins backed up the victory in the English courts, successfully defending a challenge to the award. The sellers argued that the tribunal had exceeded its powers by failing to properly apply Spanish law.
It has also been a good year for the investment arbitration practice. A team led by Stephen Fietta and Robert Volterra is representing Turkish construction company ATA in its ICSID claim against Jordan. Three eminent arbitrators (L Yves Fortier CC QC presiding) ruled that the Jordanian courts had breached the state’s bilateral investment treaty with Turkey by annulling a US$6 million commercial award in ATA’s favour. The tribunal took the unprecedented step of ordering the Jordanian courts to refrain from hearing any further action in relation to the dispute, which concerned the construction of a dyke on the Dead Sea. Jordan has since initiated both annulment and interpretation proceedings at ICSID.
Fietta, Volterra and Hamburg partner Sebastian Seelmann-Eggebert won a favourable ruling on behalf of Croatia in an €80 million claim by an Austrian casino operator, Adria, over the termination of two joint ventures with the Croatian Lottery dating back to the days of the former Yugoslavia. An UNCITRAL tribunal at The Hague rejected Adria’s claims in their entirety. The firm has been retained by Macedonia in two related ICSID arbitrations. In the first – an Energy Charter Treaty claim brought by Austrian energy company EVN – Macedonia successfully defeated an application for provisional measures that would have blocked court proceedings in Macedonia. The firm is also defending Macedonia in the first ever claim brought by the European Energy Community Secretariat. The case concerns the regulation of the Macedonian electricity sector, and the parties are believed to be engaged in ongoing settlement discussions.
2010 saw the growth of the Asian practice with the addition of partner Simon Powell from Jones Day in Hong Kong. Powell brought a team of two lawyers with him.
Wolfgang Schmid, in-house counsel at Freudenberg Worldwide, used the firm for a case with elements in five countries, heard in three languages. The team he worked with were “outstanding”, he said, both analytically and on the law, without shutting his view out: “I used them for 1,600 hours and was extremely satisfied. They were very efficient. I would definitely recommend them – especially the excellent team head by Mark Beckett.”
Stephen Butler, of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, used a team led by Philip Clifford on a case he ranked as 10 out of 10 on the scale of importance. He said his team was “always ahead of the curve” on the case, conducted all of its own cross-examinations and was simply very effective. “The opposing counsel from the US was good, but Philip was better.”
Peter Schuchardt, of OAO Telecominvest, used Latham & Watkins on a matter where other parties were in a similar position, allowing him scope to compare the value for money received. The team at Latham & Watkins advised him to forgo a strategy being recommended to a co-party by another law firm. Having accepted that advice, he avoided “being caught up in very difficult issues” that apparently led the other party into administration.
During the case he was able to observe lawyers from a range of distinguished firms in action. “In efficiency, strategy and addressing complex issues of law, Latham & Watkins was clearly ahead of the pack,” Schuchardt said. In his opinion he paid less overall than others “and got more in relative terms.”