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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom

05 March 2012

In the past 12 months the arbitration group helped to get a client out of prison in Georgia, secured important wins and settlements, and impressed British journalist A A Gill with its “total lawyering”.

People in Who’s Who:
5
Pending cases as counsel:
37
Value of pending counsel work:
US$95.7 billion
Treaty cases:
8
Current arbitrator appointments:
9 (of which 6 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
5

A general counsel recently joked that the shareholders of his organisation would know better than to fall out since each would be too worried the other would hire Skadden. As that remark suggests, the firm has earned itself a reputation as a formidable opponent, with a particular skill in fast-paced global litigation and arbitration “wars” – with numerous parallel proceedings.

The firm was one of the first US names to establish a specialist international arbitration practice, which grew out of the New York litigation department in the 1990s with partners Barry Garfinkel and Dana Freyer at its helm. In 2001, the firm recruited Paul Mitchard QC in London as a lateral partner, followed soon by Australian Karyl Nairn (today an ICC Court vice president). Since then, the London team has continued to expand with a series of laterals at the expense of firms such as Shearman & Sterling and Norton Rose.

More recently, there has been expansion in Asia, spearheaded by Mitchard after he moved to Hong Kong a few years ago.

The team was early into the area of investment law – where it can claim both to have never lost a case and to have worked on some seminal matters, including one of the few arbitrations started under the ASEAN treaty. It’s refreshing too that in a male-dominated field, 60 per cent of its members are women, including four partners.

Network

As well as in New York and London, Skadden arbitration lawyers are on the ground in Houston, Hong Kong and Singapore. The firm has 23 offices worldwide.

Who uses it?

Lots of high-net-worth Russian individuals, including Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. The group has also represented the Russian oligarch-led Alfa Access Renova consortium recently in its dispute with BP over a proposed takeover.

Other clients include Vivendi, Orascom, Altimo (part of the Alfa Group), Cemex, Anheuser-Busch, Pfizer, AspenTech, Renaissance Capital and Brazil’s largest privately held company Votorantim.

On the state side, Slovakia is a regular customer after the firm helped it defeat a billion-euro BIT claim by a Dutch investor.

Track record

Looking better and better by the year. One of the team’s recent high points was a string of positive results for oil investors Ron Fuchs and Ioannis Kardassopoulos in their battle with Georgia.

The case saw a landmark jurisdictional victory by Skadden relating to the provisional application of the Energy Charter Treaty, followed by a US$100 million award (pretty much the whole of the claim) plus a greater than usual rate of interest.

When things hit a speed bump late in the day – with Fuchs’ arrest and imprisonment on bribery charges in Georgia while visiting to discuss settlement terms – Skadden lawyers mounted swift enforcement actions in 10 jurisdictions, obtaining attachments over significant Georgian assets. Eventually the case settled and Fuchs was pardoned, with Georgia paying US$37 million of what was owed.

It’s done just as well for Slovakia recently too – getting a billion-euro claim by a Dutch health insurance investor knocked out at the jurisdictional stage in mid-2011. Remarkably, a majority of the panel held that the claimant wasn’t covered by the Netherlands-Czechoslovakia BIT because it owned its assets indirectly through a Czech holding company. The Skadden team apparently clinched the case when they dug up Dutch parliamentary records to show the unusual BIT provision had been intentional. (Sidley Austin was on the other side.) Slovakia was so pleased it’s already retained the firm for two other treaty cases, the team says.

For Mexican cement group Cemex, the firm negotiated a US$600 million settlement with the government of Venezuela in late 2011, ending an ICSID case that had already cleared the jurisdictional phase. (Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt and Mosle represented the state.)

The firm also obtained the emergency injunction for AAR that prevented BP from proceeding with a much publicised deal with Rosneft, going on to win expedited arbitration in Stockholm that killed the deal for good.

And in January 2011, meanwhile, it was part of the global settlement (also mentioned in our profile of Salans) that helped Vivendi save some face after finding itself ousted from a stake in a Polish telecoms firm by Deutsche Telekom.

Recent events

Rory McAlpine, the former head of litigation at SNR Denton, joined the firm as of counsel. In New York, Julie Bedard was promoted to partner (and also featured in GAR’s “45 under 45”).

David Kavanagh was named “Global Lawyer of the Year” for his work on behalf of AAR. The magazine noted that he had not only prevented a US$16 billion share swap between BP and Rosneft but also paved the way for Exxon to exploit the Arctic – “it’s not every arbitration that reorders the economic and geopolitical map”.

Meanwhile, the firm was front and centre during the much-publicised UK court proceedings between Roman Abramovich and another UK-based oligarch, Boris Berezovsky. Writing in The Times, British journalist A A Gill was awestruck by the Skadden team. “They’re svelter, harder, more purposeful. Their passing of files was a thing of beauty. They make fluid, aggressive shapes. This is total lawyering; they own the park.”

Client comment

Andre DeCort of Millhouse Capital, an investment company that has used the firm on litigation and arbitration, said he’d seen the team turn the tables on opponents “numerous times”, and would recommend them to a friend “without question”. Skadden says this year it impressed two defeated opponents so much that they sought out the firm to represent them on subsequent matters.

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