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GAR 100 - 4th Edition

Vinson & Elkins LLP

21 February 2011

Vinson & Elkins styles itself as the “world’s leading energy firm” – with justification, in fairness, when you look at the part it has played in the development of the global oil and gas industry.

People in Who’s Who:
Pending cases as counsel:
Value of pending counsel work:
US$1.7 billion
Treaty cases:
Current arbitrator appointments:
1 (of which 0 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

Part of that means being able to rattle the sabre for a client when things go awry.

The arbitration practice took shape in 2000 when the firm recruited James Loftis. Loftis, a US lawyer who works from London, joined having worked at the Gulf War Claims Commission. Since then, the firm launched a freestanding arbitration team in 2008, adding partners in Asia and more recently in Houston. Several members of the trade group and other related practice areas have since joined the team. Today it has someone on the ground in all the major time zones and as many as 10 partners working on the group’s cases.


The firm’s core business is such that it opened in China before New York. It’s now in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Moscow, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Who uses it?

In the upstream oil and gas area the firm represents not only international oil and gas businesses but also a number of national-owned oil companies. Lower down the value-chain it’s been connected with arbitration work for an Omani power company and Essar Oilfield Services.

In the treaty-area, it’s recently advised investors on how to bring claims against India and Armenia.

Big wins

The team recently obtained “comprehensive relief” (its words) for a subsidiary of a US power provider in a row with a Pakistani business over inadequate gas supplies.

It also defeated a US$170 million claim by ExxonMobil made against its client, Spectra Energy.

In a dispute that showcased its technical knowledge, the firm won US$20 million award for Niska Energy in a disagreement about the final purchase price of gas storage facilities in North America. The Vinson & Elkins’ team persuaded a sole arbitrator to reclassify part of the gas supplied “inherited” as valueless “cushion gas”, despite contrary reports in official records.

Recent events

The team’s case against Armenia cleared the jurisdictional hurdle, following a novel decision from an LCIA tribunal. It decided that a reference to arbitration in a contract allowed it to assume jurisdiction over claims brought under an investment treaty – a theory dubbed the “reverse umbrella clause”.

In the English appeal courts, the firm successfully defended an ICC award on jurisdiction in favour of its client, Essar Oilfield Services. It is reportedly the first time an English court has given its blessing to an arbitration clause in one contract being used to cover a dispute from a separate, but related, contract. The firm continued to grow, adding two associates in London and one in Hong Kong. There were also two promotions to counsel in Beijing and Washington, DC.

In Houston, Timothy Tyler became director of the arbitration section of the University of Texas School of Law’s Center on Global Energy.



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