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GAR 100 - 4th Edition

Lalive

18 February 2011

In the 1980s, Lalive Budin & Partners was the place you went to find lawyers experienced in handling enormous, international, commercial disputes. The firm’s lawyers participated in the first “true” international commercial arbitrations and other international proceedings that followed nationalisations by petrol-states, from the 1950s through to the 1980s – Sapphire v Iran, Texaco v Libya, Aminoil v Kuwait, etc. The firm’s lineage as a specialist for international disputes goes back 50 years and grew largely from one person: Pierre Lalive – described in Dealing in Virtue (a book on the history of private justice in the commercial sphere) as the “grand old man of Swiss arbitration”. It was Pierre Lalive’s brother, Jean-Flavien Lalive, who founded the firm.

People in Who’s Who:
6
Pending cases as counsel:
43
Value of pending counsel work:
US$9.5 billion
Treaty cases:
4
Current arbitrator appointments:
57 (of which 30 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
10

Originally a disputes boutique, Lalive Budin & Partners relaunched as Lalive in 1994. Its co-founders are Michael Schneider and Teresa Giovaninni, both of whom deserve recognition for their contribution to the firm’s reputation. Schneider is president of the Swiss Arbitration Association and chaired the working group charged with revising the UNCITRAL Rules, while Giovaninni has just stepped down as vice president of the LCIA Court.

Finnish-born Veijo Heiskanen is highly regarded for his investment arbitration work, while of the younger crowd, Matthias Scherer, Domitille Baizeau and Bernd Ehle are often name-checked. Scherer is vice-chair of the IBA arbitration committee, and Baizeau recently replaced him as a member of the arbitration committee of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which administers the Swiss Rules of International Arbitration. Pierre Lalive, now over 80, remains an active participant in the firm’s life, going to the office most days.

Lalive claims to have the largest full-time arbitration team of any firm in Switzerland – with 22 lawyers, including seven partners, devoting all their time to that area. A further five work on arbitration part-time. In terms of strategy, the firm has said it’s only interested in the biggest work – much of which will have no nexus with Switzerland. To that end, it offers a multinational, multilingual team (lawyers currently come from 12 jurisdictions and are conducting hearings in five different languages. Many have trained abroad at firms such as Shearman & Sterling and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

There’s no doubt Lalive considers itself the most international of the Swiss firms, to the point where it says it doesn’t regard other local GAR 100-listed firms, like Schellenberg Wittmer, as competitors at all. That philosophy means it will often shun work as co-counsel with large US or UK firms that other Swiss firms sometimes undertake. It’s an approach that doesn’t necessarily suit everyone – in 2009 a partner left, saying she thought the firm should be more open to considering a co-counsel role from time to time. The firm responds that it has no issue with such a model but that it “already competes with the international firms in the same market.” Where it uses co-counsel, it normally looks to firms in emerging markets, it says.

Network

Besides its Geneva base, the firm opened an office in Zurich in early 2010 and has had a presence in Doha since 2006.

Who uses it?

Even by Swiss standards, Lalive can be cagey about discussing current work (and Swiss bar rules don’t help). Polish mobile operator PTC and Turkish state-owned oil company Botas are clients, as is US tobacco group Philip Morris for its hugely controversial ICSID claim over Uruguay’s tobacco laws (unusually, the firm is acting as co-counsel with Sidley Austin on that case). The international oil majors do not feature as often as in Lalive’s early history, and it’s now far more common for the firm to represent respondent states or state-owned entities – and Middle Eastern and African states in particular. The firm defended the government of Iraq against claims by the Kuwait Investment Authority and other states at the United Nations Compensation Commission totalling US$180 billion. The amounts awarded were a small percentage of the sums claimed. Romania is using it as co-counsel for a claim by Rompetrol at ICSID.

Big wins

Given the number of governments who instruct the firm, “success” often means stopping a claim before it gets very far. So Lalive’s reportable wins in recent years have been few and far between. All the same, one recent victory was a US$760 million award for Turkey’s Botas in an oil pricing dispute with Iran – wins don’t come much bigger. This year the firm reports successfully defending a leading German car manufacturer in two international arbitrations over claims worth several hundred million dollars brought by two former sales partners in the Middle East.

Rankings

In rankings for Switzerland, Lalive sits at the top for arbitration. One guide describes it as “a compact outfit […] highly regarded for its near-exclusive focus on representing clients in international arbitration” adding, “market commentators admire the group’s strong presence in the arbitration arena and its “impressive reputation worldwide for public international law cases”.

A GAR report on Switzerland a few years ago described it as the dominant practice along with Schellenberg Wittmer. The researcher noted a considerable degree of rivalry between the two practices at that time. In a global ranking from this year, Lalive is the only Swiss firm picked. Pierre Lalive and Michael Schneider are often named as among the most in-demand arbitrators globally.

Recent events

Michael Schneider concluded four years as chair of the working group in charge of drafting revisions to the UNCITRAL Rules and was immediately appointed chair of the commission that approved them. Teresa Giovannini represented a west African oil company in a US$100 million ICC dispute with a multinational joint venture partner and found herself appointed chair of a Milan Chamber of Commerce tribunal hearing a US$33 million construction dispute between ten European companies. She published a number of academic articles including a sizeable contribution to the liber amicorum for Spanish arbitration legend Bernardo Cremades.

Veijo Heiskanen was instructed by Philip Morris for one of the more controversial ICSID cases of recent times – a compensation claim against Uruguay over legislation that imposed graphic health warnings on its cigarette packaging. Uruguay is receiving funding from a US anti-smoking NGO to finance its case. Heiskanen, Schneider and Scherer continued their work for Romania in the Rompetrol case, but failed in their efforts to have Rompetrol’s lead counsel, Barton Legum of Salans, disqualified from the case on the grounds that he used to work at the same law firm as one of the arbitrators.

Domitille Baizeau was instructed by two east African oil companies for an UNCITRAL proceeding against a Chinese investor, and by a European solar panel manufacturer for a US$40 million quarrel with a Chinese supplier. In addition she was named a co-arbitrator in an US$82 million LCIA arbitration.

British-Lebanese national Noradèle Radjai and Swiss-Peruvian-Colombian Franz Stirnimann Fuentes were promoted from associate to counsel. Radjai was also appointed to the executive board of ICDR Young & International, a networking and educational under-40s group belonging to the American Arbitration Association’s international wing. Four new associates joined: English solicitor Laura Halonen (ex-Freshfields), French avocat Florian Dupuy (who trained at Shearman & Sterling) and Swiss lawyers Dimitri Iafaev and Catherine Kunz.

Who's Who nominees:

  • Veijo Heiskanen, Michael Schneider, Matthias Scherer, Pierre Lalive, Teresa Giovannini & Domitille Baizeau

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