A lateral hire in Dubai expanded SJ Berwin’s offerings in the Middle East, as the firm continued to focus on politically sensitive Russian cases.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$11 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 21 (of which 11 are as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
SJ Berwin’s international arbitration practice was founded by former London partner Tim Taylor QC in 2005. He still heads the global practice, but from Dubai, having moved there to help the firm establish an office in 2009.
Partner Justin Michaelson and consultant Per Runeland now lead the firm’s work in London, while Giovanna Kwong (the principal of SJ Berwin’s associated firm, Kwongs) is the name to know in Hong Kong. All those so far mentioned sit as arbitrators.
Much of the team’s work originates in Russia. In 2010, the firm said farewell to native Russian speaker David Goldberg, a co-chair of the group, after the wider firm shelved plans to open up in Moscow in favour of a merger with Proskauer Rose. The merger didn’t materialise, however, and Goldberg is now at White & Case in London. Despite this, high-value international arbitration work continues to arrive from Russian sources.
The team organises a popular annual event – Hot Topics in International Arbitration – every autumn. The event routinely draws a 200-plus audience. It has also extended its coverage to Asia and the Middle East.
Taylor runs a foundation to educate African lawyers in the basics of commercial law through secondments.
Who uses it?
A joke runs within SJ Berwin that some corridors have a sign: “Russian only spoken past here.” When it comes to who keeps the international arbitration team busy, it’s a fair point. In 2008 and 2009, Michaelson was instrumental in representing the Russian half of TNK-BP in a fight for control of its joint venture with BP.
Before that, the firm was on the winning side in the battle for ownership of MegaFon, one of Russia’s most profitable telecoms companies, with co-counsel Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. The
firm has also developed a niche advising on arbitrations relating to private funds – a hot topic in the wake of the financial crisis.
That said, the new office in Dubai is now producing instructions from Middle Eastern clients, including two arbitrations at the DIAC for the Meydan Group (in a dispute over the development of Sheikh Mohammed’s Dubai racecourse).
The group was on the winning side in the MegaFon dispute and in another case for an Israeli satellite company (in which Serbia was ordered to pay SJ Berwin’s client €45 million).
More recently, the firm succeeded in getting a £10 million award for Indian real estate company Trikona Advisers in an LCIA arbitration.
In February 2011, the firm recruited Mark Hoyle, an arbitrator and Arab law specialist from Al Tamimi & Company, to work in its growing Dubai office. Taylor also took silk last year, while Greg Lascelles was promoted to the firm’s partnership and seconded to Morgan Stanley.
In April, the firm won a US$4.5 million award for Gibraltar-registered fund Remington Worldwide in what was the first claim under the Energy Charter Treaty to be heard at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce in Russian. Although Goldberg was the lead partner in the case, it remained in SJ Berwin’s hands after his departure.