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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Norton Rose Group

05 March 2012

The firm’s numerous mergers have had a transformative effect on its international arbitration team.

People in Who’s Who:
7
Pending cases as counsel:
165
Value of pending counsel work:
US$30 billion
Treaty cases:
10
Current arbitrator appointments:
26 (of which 17 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
11

After recovering its financial mojo in the 2000s, Norton Rose hit the expansion trail in 2009, buying a series of highly respected firms in Australia, Canada and South Africa.

Although not the main aim, those mergers – which are more about surfing China’s quest for natural resources – had the side-effect of creating quite a potent international arbitration unit. And the Norton Rose arbitration team was already looking a lot perkier, in fairness.

Norton Rose gained a name in European international arbitration during the early 1990s thanks to well-regarded partner Michael Lee. The firm also developed a name early on for international disputes out in Singapore.

In Europe, however, things started to flag after Lee left (becoming a popular arbitrator) and the firm, according to some, dithered over whether to commit to international arbitration fully.

That commitment came in 2007 when it recruited Joe Tirado from Baker Botts to be head of international arbitration. Under Tirado’s leadership, things began to fire on more cylinders.

Since then, the European team has been supplemented by some even bigger names.

In Canada, Norton Rose has absorbed Ogilvy Renault, previously a GAR 100 firm in its own right. The Ogilvy team consists of three partners – Pierre Bienvenu, Stephen Drymer and Martin Valasek, who grew up under the tutelage of Yves Fortier, a colossus in the ranks of full-time arbitrators.

Although Fortier has now left the Norton Rose organisation – a bittersweet occasion for both arbitrator and younger partners – those protégées were already names in their own right. Bienvenu is a recent past-chair of the IBA’s arbitration committee and now in demand as an arbitrator himself. The team is established as the pre-eminent player in international arbitration in Canada. Its success is occasionally cited as proof for the proposition that in the right conditions a top-notch practice can develop anywhere.

More recently, the Norton Rose Group has taken over Macleod Dixon, a leading player in energy and natural resources from Western Canada. From an international arbitration perspective, that contributes both A-list energy clients and a much bigger Latin American capability to the mix.

In particular, the arbitration team is expected to benefit from the experience and contacts of Elisabeth Eljuri – one of Venezuela’s leading transactional lawyers, who also has a niche in international disputes. Besides being local adviser to numerous international energy clients, Eljuri is president elect of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators.

More recently still it’s been joined by Patricia Nacimiento – one of Germany’s best-known international disputes names.

Although it’s early days, the result is a group that on paper looks far more than the sum of its parts.

Pierre Bienvenu and Joe Tirado are the two men in charge of unlocking its obvious potential. Bienvenu has the title “global practice leader for international arbitration within the Norton Rose Group”, and Tirado “head of international arbitration for Norton Rose”.

Network

Almost too broad to cover in detail. All those mergers – we haven’t really mentioned the mergers with Deneys Reitz in South Africa or Deacons in Australia – mean the firm is on the ground in lots of places that its competitors are not.

One office that deserves a special mention is Singapore. Even before recent events, local partner Guy Spooner was regularly picked by directories as a star performer.

Who uses it?

Moser Baer: the Indian tech firm has now sent the London team a series of ICC cases about silicon wafers.

Kazakhstan is also using the group to defend an Energy Charter Treaty case; King & Spalding is on the other side.

In Canada, the former Ogilvy Renault team is regarded as having something of a lock on the biggest work emanating in that jurisdiction. One high-profile recent matter was for AbitibiBowater.

In Germany, Patricia Nacimiento has a loyal following with various banks and insurance firms and is one of the few local practitioners with a live treaty claim.

Track record

Elisabeth Eljuri has the distinction of being one of the first counsel to win a major ICC arbitration over a Chavez nationalisation. She was part of a team that won a commercial claim against PDVSA after one of the very first nationalisations of the Chavez era.

Meanwhile, Ogilvy Renault recently obtained the largest payment so far seen under NAFTA (in the form of US$130 million paid to AbitibiBowater Inc during a settlement with the Canadian government).

Ogilvy Renault also had a big result a few years ago in ICSID arbitration. They won a client – an airport management group – US$85 million. Obtaining that figure entailed persuading the tribunal to break from the norm and adopt a Chorzów Factory approach to damages – regarded as an impressive feat.

Recent events

As indicated, 2011 has been a year on the personnel side.

In January, the firm announced it had persuaded Yaroslav Klimov to join its Moscow office. Klimov was a full-time part of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s international arbitration practice.

That was followed in September by the news about Patricia Nacimiento. Nacimiento, among her other achievements, is on the ICSID panel of arbitrators. She’s also a founder of Disputeforum – a new German project aimed at increasing the literacy of in-house counsel in how to handle disputes.

Then, in November, news broke of the Macleod Dixon merger, bringing Elisabeth Eljuri and her colleagues on board. Unfortunately, the news also seems to have precipitated the retirement of Yves Fortier because of potential conflicts with his arbitrator work. Fortier is sitting on the ICSID panel hearing (sometime Macleod Dixon client) ConocoPhillips’ claim against Venezuela – and was subject to a challenge the day after the merger was announced.

Other partner additions included Peter Borg, formerly of Pinsent Masons, in Brisbane; and David McKie, formerly of DLA Piper in London.

Meanwhile, three senior international arbitration-focused associates were promoted to the firm’s of counsel level (a non-partnership option) in 2011, including Sherina Petit, who joined the London office around the time of Joe Tirado. Petit was secretary to the UK’s task force on the revision of the ICC Rules.

The practice finished 2011 with some 186 pending cases as counsel, including 13 treaty matters. That compares to 60 back in 2007, none of which were about investment law.

Client comment

The general counsel of an Indian aviation and travel corporation, who asked to remain anonymous, provided this recommendation for Norton Rose:

“As an organisation, we would never have achieved the settlement that we finally achieved if it was not for the brilliance, perseverance, strategic and timely advice of the star team led by Joe [Tirado] and Sherina [Petit].

“I hope we never have to ever fight any battle of this nature, but if we did, hell would have to freeze over before we instructed anyone else other than this stupendous team.”

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