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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Allen & Overy

05 March 2012

2011 saw Allen & Overy unveil plans to re-enter the Paris market and open in Casablanca with an eye on French-speaking Africa. In London, there was a significant promotion

People in Who’s Who:
7
Pending cases as counsel:
79
Value of pending counsel work:
US$16 billion
Current arbitrator appointments:
8 (of which 15 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
7

The firm’s current international arbitration practice traces its lineage to arbitrator David St John Sutton, a former partner of the firm. When he moved to the bar in 2001, things passed into the hands of Judith Gill (now one of only 150 women QCs out of England’s more than 130,000 lawyers), younger partner Matt Gearing and Stephen Jagusch, who joined from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris.

Today, the Allen & Overy arbitration team is one of the biggest in the London market, respected not only for its portfolio of business but also for how it approaches its own development. From about 2005, it began expanding internationally, initially in North America, then in Asia and continental Europe.

Among the practice’s achievements are bringing the first ever Energy Charter Treaty claim in 2000 against Hungary, which resulted in a settlement.

Two of the partners, Gill and Gearing, edit Russell on Arbitration, one of the leading texts on UK arbitration law. David St John Sutton is the editor in chief. London-based partner Anthony Sinclair, meanwhile, is the co-author of a leading commentary on ICSID arbitration with Austrian professor Christoph Schreuer and others.

Network

The firm has offices in 27 countries, of which the most important in arbitration terms are London, Frankfurt, New York and those in Hong Kong and Beijing. In 2011, the firm opened an office in Casablanca, Morocco – making it one of the few international firms in the GAR 100 with a foothold in Africa.

The firm spent 2010 expanding its network – opening in Doha, Jakarta, Perth and Sydney.

Who uses it?

It’s always a good sign when an arbitration practice counts arbitral institutions among its clients – Allen & Overy’s London partner Richard Smith and senior associate Angeline Welsh were instructed to act for the ICC International Court of Arbitration as intervener in the important UK Supreme Court case of Jivraj v Hashwani, a case that determined the future of arbitration in London.

In the investment treaty sphere, the firm has worked for the first Chinese investor to bring a claim at ICSID (fish flour producer Tza Yap Shum); telecoms company Millicom against Senegal; Deutsche Bank in an oil derivatives-based claim against Sri Lanka; and recently for 14 solar companies that decided, together, to bring claims against Spain under the Energy Charter Treaty. It has also acted for states, including Azerbaijan, Slovenia, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates.

As with many of the leading players, it now receives its share of work from Russia. It is acting as lead counsel in a series of five arbitrations brought by Ashot Egiazaryan, a Russian member of Parliament, against Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and the Moscow authorities in a dispute arising from the redevelopment of a Soviet-era hotel on Red Square. The dispute has also given rise to related litigation in Cyprus.

The firm – rather than the international arbitration group – has just been asked to play a leading role for creditors in negotiating with the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund on Greece’s debt restructuring. Although at the time of writing no group of bondholders has indicated plans to break away and bring a legal claim, there’s clearly a possibility, albeit remote, that something along those lines could happen in time. (White & Case is also representing the private creditors.)

Track record

It’s never easy to review an arbitration firm’s track record because so much work is kept confidential; but in Allen & Overy’s case it’s easier than some. That’s in part because it moved into investment arbitration early on – meaning it had work in the public domain – and also because of the nature of the results. There have been plenty of knock-out blows.

For example, a little while ago, the firm defeated an ICSID claim for the UAE; it went on to defend a related contract arbitration on behalf of two UAE port authorities. When the arbitrators ruled against the claimant, they also ordered it to pay Allen & Overy’s full legal costs.

There was a similarly notable victory at ICSID when the firm won a provisional measures application on behalf of telecoms company Millicom against Senegal – resulting in the strike-out of Senegalese litigation proceedings. Millicom continues to seek restoration of its licence to operate in Senegal or more than US$466 million in damages.

The firm was also adviser to JPMorgan when it needed to develop a global strategy for resolving claims arising from one of the largest bank frauds in Latin America. In the course of a complex web of matters – including two large ICC arbitrations, litigation in New York state and federal courts, and civil, criminal and administrative proceedings in Argentina and Uruguay – JPMorgan won an ICC award of US$100 million and defeated a claim for US$700 million – resulting in a global settlement of the related disputes.

Recently, the firm also succeeded in persuading the tribunal in a major ICC arbitration stemming from the global recession that a limitation-of-liability clause applied in all circumstances. This resulted in a claim initially valued at several hundred million dollars being capped at US$150 million (a team led by Jagusch subsequently achieved a settlement well below that figure).

In the Ashot Egiazaryan claim mentioned above, the group succeeded in lifting a Cypriot court’s freeze on US$6 billion of an oligarch’s assets.

Recent events

The practice’s biggest news this year was the recruitment of a team from Herbert Smith, including arbitration partner Michael Young (previously based in London) and two French litigators. After completing his gardening leave early in 2012, Young will become Allen & Overy’s first Paris-based arbitration partner since Laurent Gouiffés moved to Hogan Lovells in 2009. GAR understands that Peter Thorp is also to join the Paris practice, after several years in Beijing.

It is understood that the plan is to run the London and Paris offices as a single profit centre to avoid a situation where they compete for the same clients.

This building of the Paris office ties in with the firm’s expansion into French-speaking Africa, marked by the opening of a new office in Casablanca in September. The firm says that its lawyers in Paris and London have advised on large projects in the region for some years, the majority of which are subject to arbitration agreements.

The firm has recently promoted two arbitration specialists to counsel, Huawei Sun in Beijing and Silke Justen in Frankfurt, while Andrew Pullen was made consultant (the local equivalent of counsel) in Singapore, having previously been based in London.

Anthony Sinclair in London – one of London’s more popular young “voices” – made partner and featured in GAR’s “45 under 45”. The firm lost another lawyer who featured in that ranking, Jan Schaefer in Frankfurt, who joined King & Spalding at the start of this year.

Relocated lawyers include Matthew Hodgson, who moved from London to Prague to strengthen the firm’s offering in central and eastern Europe and senior associate Mark Ferguson, who moved from London to Bangkok.

Sheila Ahuja left the Hong Kong office to become a partner at Trilegal in Mumbai, with which Allen & Overy has a relationship.

Stephen Jagusch succeeded Judith Gill QC as the firm’s head of international arbitration and was a leading light on the committee that established and organised the first International Arbitration Charity Ball, which raised over £200,000 for Save The Children. The ball is now set to become a regular event (tickets are already available for the next one, on 10 May in London’s Guildhall).

Gill recently stepped down as co-chair of the IBA arbitration committee after two years in the role. In November, she co-chaired the second GAR Live in London with Bill Rowley QC.

The firm says it is has seen an increase in gas price review disputes and disputes relating to complex financial products (especially in Asia), which it regards as a major area of potential growth because of its premier finance and arbitration practices. The founding partner of its US law practice and a senior partner in the firm’s derivatives group until his retirement last year, Jeff Golden has been at the helm of a project to establish a specialist institution in The Hague to hear disputes arising from the financial markets. PRIME Finance opened on 16 January.

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