According to a recent legal survey in the US, K&L Gates is now the 11th-largest law firm worldwide in size and 16th-largest in terms of revenue. It’s fair to say that the firm has yet to achieve a commensurate place in the rankings for international arbitration, though in the past couple of years it’s taken convincing steps towards building such a practice. The firm is the product of a fairly complicated sequence of mergers – East Coast firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart absorbed UK practice Nicholson Graham & Jones in 2005 and then fused with a Seattle firm (Preston Gates & Ellis) two years later before going on to merge with three other firms from Texas, north Carolina and Chicago. The arbitration practice of the legacy firms focused on construction and insurance matters to a large extent, but significantly widened its scope in 2009 with some lateral hires. Sabine Konrad, an investment arbitration specialist and one of Germany’s appointees to the ICSID panel of arbitrators, joined the Paris office from Dewey & LeBoeuf, shortly followed by Louis Degos, an ex-Eversheds partner better known for his commercial arbitration work. Meanwhile in Singapore, Raja Bose came on board after 10 years at Watson Farley & Williams to become head of the Asia practice. That year the firm also transferred a Pittsburgh partner to head a new Dubai office.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$8.2 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 16 (of which 1 is as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
The expansion has continued in 2010, with the firm acquiring Hogan & Hartson’s Warsaw office in the run-up to the Lovells merger, as well as making new partner hires in Singapore and Hong Kong. The firm reports having some 50 commercial arbitrations and eight investment treaty cases on the go. The practice is also proud of its relative youth, with many of its leading members aged under 45. Underscoring its ambition to become known in the international arbitration world, the firm has also sponsored the prize for one of the major mooting competitions – agreeing to fund a year’s study at the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary, University of London.
The firm has an active arbitration presence in London, Paris, Warsaw, Dubai, Singapore, Beijing and Taipei, as well as in several US offices, including New York, DC and Pittsburgh. The firm recently opened new offices in Moscow and Tokyo but doesn’t list any arbitration practitioners as resident there. The wider firm has 1,900 lawyers in 36 offices across the US, Europe and Asia.
Who uses it?
European and Asian governments are coming to the firm for a variety of treaty claims. Poland has used it for a couple of confidential BIT cases, while Germany retained it for an Energy Charter Treaty dispute with Swedish state-run power company Vattenfall at ICSID, which has now settled. A Panamanian subsidiary of Taiwanese state oil company CPC recently retained it for an ICSID claim against Venezuela. Two German investors are using it for a consolidated ICSID claim against Costa Rica concerning an eco-tourism project – a case Sabine Konrad brought over from Dewey & LeBoeuf. On the commercial side, the firm has represented a variety of European, US and Asian companies in sectors including oil and gas, insurance, construction, chemicals, aviation, shipping, pharmaceuticals and IT – the majority of these are confidential, however. Murphy Oil used K&L Gates to handle an insurance coverage dispute arising from damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. In a high-profile sports case, the London office acted for the West Indies Cricket Board in a contractual dispute with its principal sponsor, Digicel, over the “Stanford 20/20” cricket match in Antigua – the dispute went to a fast-track LCIA procedure in 2008 and was settled post-award.
In 2009, the firm helped Belgium’s Transcor Astra Group win a US$640 million ICDR award against the US arm of Brazil’s Petrobras in a dispute over put options – and went on to get the award enforced in a US court.
In March, the firm opened a new office in Warsaw staffed by the former local team at Hogan & Hartson. Four arbitration specialists came on board led by Maciej Jamka, best known for his representation of the Polish government in the Eureko case, a treaty claim brought by a Dutch insurer. There were a couple of lateral hires in Asia: Mike Pollen joined in Singapore from DLA Piper, bringing experience in shipping and oil and gas disputes, while Christopher Tung joined in Hong Kong after 13 years at Mallesons Stephen Jaques. Tung works on construction, clean energy and carbon finance project disputes in Asia.
Astra Oil Trading’s dispute with Petrobras America over put options and buyout rights to an oil refinery joint venture took a new turn. K&L Gates’ client won a US$640 million ICDR award in 2009, but Petrobras America challenged enforcement on the grounds that Astra, though registered in the Netherlands, should be considered a US company because its CEO lives in California (the New York Convention doesn’t apply to disputes between two US companies). In March, a Texas court rejected this and upheld the award. Another client of the firm, the German government, settled its ICSID dispute with Sweden’s Vattenfall over a coal-fired power plant, though the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.
The general counsel of a marine transportation group in Singapore used the local office for a relatively high-stakes dispute that settled pre-arbitration, and praised Mike Pollen’s “robustness of vision” and “ability to assess quickly the strengths and weaknesses of a party’s case” as key to the positive outcome. In London, partner John Magnin was retained for a sensitive financial matter and gave “very good practical commercial advice”, said one respondent. In the proceedings he was also a “first-class” tactician. “Having regard to the result, it was very good value for money.” The VP of a US company using members of the London and Paris team for an ongoing ICC dispute says he’s been impressed by their “keen understanding of our need for quality representation at a closely controlled cost.” Another client in the US said he got “first-rate representation” and value for money – “they knew the arbitration process and its subtle side.” A company that used the firm in a construction arbitration was impressed not only by their competence but by their “grasp of technical detail.” A spokesperson for Poland’s Treasury Solicitors’ Office had no hesitation in recommending the firm for its “wide knowledge of international investment arbitration”. The state is using the firm’s Warsaw and Paris offices for BIT proceedings that remain in the early stages.