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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Clifford Chance

05 March 2012

Clifford Chance is starting to look like its old self again, with the return of a senior ICC figure

People in Who’s Who:
3
Pending cases as counsel:
70
Value of pending counsel work:
US$34 billion
Treaty cases:
8
Current arbitrator appointments:
15 (of which 6 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
7

In the mid-1980s, Clifford Chance was one of the first Anglo-Saxon law firms to create an international arbitration group, separate from the litigation department.

Legend has it partners at Clifford Chance and Freshfields coordinated on the matter of whether to do so, so that, when raising it with management, each could point to the threat posed by the other to gain impetus. Whatever the truth, that model – truly innovative in its day – has been widely copied.

Over the next 15 years, as the firm went global, the team expanded – becoming particularly prominent in Paris and New York in addition to London.

But Clifford Chance’s arbitration group appeared to suffer some problems between 2006 and 2010 when it lost the New York lawyers post-financial crisis and during which time Paris had to manage without Jason Fry (who went to be secretary general at the ICC Court). John Beechey also retired then (and became chair of the ICC, leading to jokes about what the “CC” in “ICC” might mean).

Nevertheless, the core practice in London continued to perform well under the highly regarded Audley Sheppard.

Recently, the firm also begun expanding again internationally and has invested confidently in its disputes capacity in Asia.

In 2011, the practice had good news when ICC deputy secretary general Simon Greenberg announced he was joining the firm in Paris. The Clifford Chance-ICC revolving door turned once more in early 2012, when Jason Fry announced he would be returning to the Paris office.

Network

The main offices for arbitration at Clifford Chance are Amsterdam, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Moscow and Singapore.

Who uses it?

Shell, Maxis (the Malaysian telecoms operator), Siemens and the government of Poland are all current clients. Shell retained Clifford Chance to prosecute two multibillion-dollar disputes arising from production sharing agreements in Nigeria. It’s something of a test case being keenly watched by the rest of the industry.

French bank BNP Paribas also retained it for a dispute with Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element group that is playing out at the LCIA as well as the Russian and English courts.

Track record

Maxis escaped from a billion-dollar claim thanks to Clifford Chance. After an acrimonious fight, all claims against it (which related to a share purchase agreement and the takeover of an Indian mobile company) were dismissed.

The government of Poland is similarly grateful to it. It can continue, with confidence, to regulate companies in the oil storage sector, after Clifford Chance ended a claim brought by Mercuria SA under the Energy Charter Treaty over the government’s use of fines.

A few years ago, Clifford Chance got Tenex, a Russian uranium supplier, off the hook in a billion-dollar matter. As well as winning on the merits, the Clifford Chance team, which spanned three of its European offices, won the client US$6 million in legal costs.

Recent events

The big news – which arrived as GAR 100 was going to press – is the arrival and return, respectively, of Simon Greenberg and Jason Fry in Paris. Their arrival will probably have a transformative effect on how Clifford Chance is perceived in both the London and Paris markets.

Elsewhere, the firm has seen a big increase in work from China and has strengthened its mainland China team accordingly. It brought in Partick Zheng, formerly of Herbert Smith, as a partner and Yu Bing, formerly of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, as associate. It also moved Joseph Chu, an associate in its Hong Kong office to the mainland. Bing is Chinese-qualified, while Chu is soon expected to be.

The firm meanwhile expanded its operations to Turkey, Morocco and Australia.

BNP Paribas tapped the firm for an LCIA dispute with carmaker Russian Machines, part of Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element group. The case became public when the French bank went to the English courts to halt parallel Russian proceedings.

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