Founded two decades ago, the White & Case international arbitration practice came with a strong pedigree.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$45.5 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 26 (of which 11 are as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
In the 1950s, the firm acted on one of the most important arbitrations of the 20th century: Aramco v Saudi Arabia (with a team that included leading US arbitrator and former ICJ judge Stephen Schwebel, who was then a junior associate).
Since then, the practice has taken root in Paris, London, Washington, Stockholm, and more recently Frankfurt and Singapore, making lateral hires where required to build strength, and building a reputation for its ability to win tough cases.
The group was one of the earliest to specialise in ICSID work – it advised Indonesia in one of the very earliest cases to be heard at the centre (Amco v Indonesia). (By coincidence one of the lawyers on the other side, Paul Friedland, later joined the firm from Coudert Brothers and is now the head of the international arbitration practice group.) One of the founders of the Washington office, which led that early ICSID work, is now a regular ICSID arbitrator – Charles N Brower.
The ICSID track record includes the first case registered against a Latin American state (Santa Elena v Costa Rica), and the first Energy Charter Treaty cases to be filed that reached a merits hearing (AES v Hungary and Plama v Bulgaria), and one of the earliest NAFTA cases (Mondev v US).
Meanwhile, the Paris office enjoys a great name in project and construction disputes, some of which are described as “colossal”. Christopher Seppälä is a recognised authority on the area as long-standing legal adviser of the International Federation of Construction Engineers, the body responsible for the most widely used standard form of international construction contract.
The practice group now boasts 150 international arbitration practitioners in offices around the world (not counting lawyers who primarily work in litigation or other practice areas).
Although in the past these different elements have, at times, competed with each other, these days stories of White & Case being disunited have all but stopped. The teams coordination is expected to improve further with the recent appointment of a single international arbitration practice manager, who will work from New York.
The practice can be proud too of its openness to female talent: its upper ranks are full of highly-respected women. As the past president of the American Bar Association, Carolyn Lamm has been named as one of the 50 most influential women in America by National Law Journal. Other female arbitration partners are Abby Cohen Smutny, Patricia Nacimiento, Andrea Menaker and Ank Santens.
Who uses it?
White & Case arbitration lawyers represented Brazilian construction group Odebrecht in a fierce battle with Ecuador (which requires a mix of investment, Latin American, energy and construction specialism).
They’re also represented Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz in SCC arbitrations about gas transit and supply issues arising from the Russia-Ukraine “gas wars”. GAR has reported on both disputes.
The firm has also been representing the Philippines in Fraport v the Philippines, which could one day achieve the title of the longest running dispute at ICSID. The case – concerning an airport construction project in Manila – began in 2003.
As well as the Philippines, the firm has represented Georgia and Ukraine in multiple arbitrations and is about to start representing Perus (a regular client) in a fresh matter. Not long ago, partner Jonathan Hamilton was part of a White & Case team that helped the government secure the return of artefacts from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, which had been in the hands of Yale University since early last century.
The firm is also acting for 180,000 individual bondholders who are endeavouring to claim over US$4 billion from Argentina through investment treaty arbitration.
Recently, it advised former chess world champion Anatoly Karpov as he sought to challenge the result of chess’s governing body’s leadership election.
White & Case secured the largest ICSID award on record – US$877 million for a Czech bank that had claimed against Slovakia.
The firm can boast three consecutive victories for the Romanian government at ICSID, as well as positive outcomes in matters such as Plama v Bulgaria and Itera v Georgia.
It also won a favourable provisional decision for Ukraine in the first arbitration to be brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration about the state’s 2001 environmental rules.
While it did not win the case for Karpov and Kasparov, Ank Santens succeeded in convincing a CAS tribunal that it had jurisdiction over a dispute that was nothing to do with chess itself but connected to the running of its supreme body. This could have implications for other sporting bodies, commentators say.
John Templeman, a former senior associate at Allen & Overy, joined as practice manager in late 2010 and will oversee marketing, strategy and communications – “We have designed this position to go beyond the traditional support role,” the firm says.
In London, the firm recruited Russia, CIS and Central Europe arbitration specialist David Goldberg from SJ Berwin. Goldberg will be spending much of his time in Moscow. He works as both counsel and arbitrator and is on the list of recommended arbitrators at the International Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce of the Russian Federation.
In Paris, the firm promoted former ICC counsel Matthew Secomb. The London office promoted Michael Turrini and Charlie Lightfoot. Turrini, who specialises in construction arbitration, will relocate to Abu Dhabi this year.
As this book went to press, the firm announced the hire of local partner Peggy Şuică-Neagu to head the dispute resolution practice group in the Bucharest office. She joins after two years as head of litigation and arbitration at Romania’s largest oil and gas company, Petrom.
The firm also took over sponsorship of the international rounds of the Jessup moot (previously sponsored by Shearman & Sterling) and welcomed the first of its survey collaborations with the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary, University of London. This year’s survey of corporate users of arbitration was launched at the IBA conference in Vancouver and showed, among other things, the extent to which choice of law is a governing factors for parties when selecting the seat of arbitration.
Meanwhile, the firm launched its own survey of arbitral institutions in Latin Americas, spearheaded by Jonathan Hamilton, at an event in Bogotá.
Friedland, meanwhile, is becoming a big name at the International Bar Association, where he is vice chair of the arbitration committee and the chair of a task force that are producing guidelines on the drafting of arbitration clauses aimed at corporate users.
In a year full of highlights, one less glamorous moment perhaps stood out. Indeed, if there were an award for dedication in the upcoming GAR awards, Phillip Capper and some of his colleagues would be strong favourites. Stranded in Stockholm during the volcanic ash crisis last April, he and the entire cast of an ICC arbitration hired a bus and travelled through six countries in 25 hours. Capper was back in London in time for another arbitration hearing the following day.
Garry Kasparov said he was “most impressed by White & Case’s commitment – the firm offered pro bono assistance to us even before we had taken the decision to pursue the case.” The former chess world champion said the firm displayed “a combination of big-picture understanding and management of the smallest details despite heavy time pressure”. Following their victory in the jurisdictional phase, Kasparov says “I would never consider going to any other firm. Anyone considering arbitration in sports should not hesitate to engage them.”
An anonymous legal counsel who retained the firm on two construction arbitrations said they were “expensive but without doubt worth it”, noting in particular the lawyers’ “extreme care and devotion and meticulous control over the facts and figures.”