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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

O’Melveny & Myers

05 March 2012

2011 brought some settlements and a new Qatari client.

Who’s Who name:
Steven L Smith

O’Melveny & Myers cut its teeth in international arbitration by bringing claims on behalf of US investors before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in the 1980s, going on to establish a stand-alone practice in 1991 run from San Francisco.

It has since expanded eastwards in the US and into Europe and Asia (where the firm has a particularly big practice). In Asia, it was home for several years to Michael Moser, the chair of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre and one of the region’s most in-demand arbitrators. Moser has since become a full-time independent arbitrator, leaving Steve Smith as the senior figure. Smith chairs the IA group and splits his time between the firm’s San Francisco and Washington, DC, offices.

In London, it has built a practice around the respected figure of David Foster, whom it recruited from Watson Farley & Williams four years ago. After a bumpy start, the London team is now growing.

In Asia, responsibility for the practice in China and Singapore has passed Moser’s protégé Friven Yeoh, who made partner in 2009. He’s aided by partner Scott Nonaka in Tokyo.

Network

The firm has arbitration people on both sides of the US and in London, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Who uses it?

Thanks to Moser, the Asian practice has a great reputation for China-related work, particularly if the case needs Chinese language skills. For example, it’s representing a Chinese retailer in the first HKIAC case to be conducted solely in Mandarin (a dispute with a Taiwanese partner over an investment in a Beijing shopping mall).

Google is also a client, as are French media conglomerate Vivendi and US engineering giant Bechtel. The firm extricated Google from a complex dispute with a Japanese licensee, while for Vivendi it defended the outcome of the LCIA-administered Elektrim arbitration in the London courts. It’s represented Bechtel on numerous matters – including a US$250 million ICC case brought by a Brazilian power utility.

Track record

Aside from the results above, O’Melveny & Myers has defeated claims against Duke Energy and Mistubishi recently (a US$2.6 billion UNCITRAL matter for the former), winning costs each time.

In one of its very first cases, it obtained US$21 million in settlement for Thomson-CSF (a defence electronics firm) after scuppering the other side’s request for US$114 million more than initially agreed. Steve Smith led that work. He showed that the subcontractor had breached an anti-assignment provision.

Recent events

The firm settled several matters in 2011. It also won a beauty parade to represent Qatar Steel Company, a new client.

The matters settled – “on highly favourable terms” according to the firm – include a US$80 million claim for a Chinese copper client against its Canadian joint venture partner; and a claim for a South-East Asian conglomerate against a Chinese state-owned power company over a power purchase agreement, which required both CIETAC arbitration expertise and lobbying at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Qatar Steel Company, meanwhile, has hired the firm to defend it against claims brought by a Monaco shipping firm. The dispute will examine whether the Qatar-based company is entitled to cancel shipments of steel as a result of the downturn in the market in 2009.

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