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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

05 March 2012

Cleary Gottlieb and international arbitration go way back

People in Who’s Who:
Pending cases as counsel:
Value of pending counsel work:
US$120 billion
Current arbitrator appointments:
32 (of which 23 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

Cleary Gottlieb was one of the first US firms to venture outside home territory – led initially by post-war reconstruction work in Europe, which prompted it to open an office in Paris. Since then, it’s become so evenly balanced in terms of the mix of lawyers and their legal training – Cleary Gottlieb was the first major name from the US to treat civil law-trained lawyers as equals and give them partnerships – that it is easy at times to forget it began life in the US. More than some, the firm also prides itself on the professorial bent of its lawyers.

These characteristics, plus relationships it’s developed with governments over the years through sovereign finance advice, mean the firm has always had sizeable international disputes on its books without particularly seeking a name in the area. For example, it worked on the monumental Brazilian telecoms arbitrations that broke out a few years ago. They’re also advisers to Russia in the mighty Yukos Energy Charter Treaty case and to Argentina in one of the few ICSID matters where the country is using an external law firm (the case brought by a class of Italian bondholders).

The firm has also helped Russia in one of the more famous enforcement battles of recent years: the Noga case.

In contrast to some, Cleary Gottlieb has never taken the step of creating a stand-alone department. The firm has a policy of no formal departments at all. Another difference is the lack of a well-known individual – someone akin to, say, Jan Paulsson, Emmanuel Gaillard or Gary Born – who provides thought-leadership to the wider community, which means that at times it can seem less of a player than those firms it might regard as its peers.

Lately, however, a group of partners at the firm who focus on the area have been more prominent at events on the international arbitration circuit and some are now highly regarded.


Cleary Gottlieb has offices in 14 cities, including Paris, London and Brussels. Its Italian offices are especially popular with the elite Italian corporations.

Who uses it?

Clearly Gottlieb’s sovereign clients include Russia, Argentina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Slovenia, Japan, Sierra Leone and Iraq.

Its corporate clients include Citigroup, DP World, OAO Gazprom, Bancomext, Kookmin Bank, ETI, Sky Italia, Finmeccanica, ArcelorMittal and Sanofi-Aventis.

Track record

The Yukos dispute hasn’t been going as well as either client or firm was probably hoping: the team failed to stop it reaching a liability phase, despite an apparently strong case that Russia was never bound by the treaty in question (which it didn’t ratify). Cleary Gottlieb now has a second firm sitting on its shoulder in connection with the case.

Otherwise, the firm has secured favourable results in matters for Iraq, Citigroup, Goodyear, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Agfa-Gevaert. The victory for Agfa-Geveart (which spanned a series of related arbitrations over the sale of a business) included US$9 million for the client in legal costs.

In late 2010, the firm helped Euro Telecom International, a Dutch subsidiary of Telecom Italia, reach a US$100 million settlement with Bolivia over a telecoms expropriation, ending a treaty claim and related US litigation.

The favourable impression from those results is borne out by a case a few years ago when the firm took on Freshfields in the Brazilian telecoms wars. Although the result was something of a score-draw, the two sides have been a mutual appreciation society ever since.

Recent events

The firm has just announced the promotion of Carlo Santoro as partner in Milan. Santoro has been a key part of the team handling the Abaclat case at ICSID, brought by Italian bondholders against Argentina. He’s also worked on several gas repricing arbitrations. It also promoted Cameron Murphy, a member of the Paris office who is party of the Yukos team, to counsel.

Meanwhile, two members of Cleary Gottlieb’s Paris office found their way into GAR’s “45 under 45”: partner Claudia Annacker and counsel Roland Ziadé.

On the work front, Dubai Ports World retained the firm for an ICSID claim against Peru after it was prevented from participating in a tender for a new US$750 million terminal at the country’s biggest port.



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