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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Debevoise & Plimpton

05 March 2012

Debevoise & Plimpton has seen a rise in work from Asia

People in Who’s Who:
Pending cases as counsel:
Value of pending counsel work:
US$24 billion
Treaty cases:
Current arbitrator appointments:
17 (of which 8 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

Debevoise & Plimpton’s arbitration practice can trace its roots to Robert von Mehren, arguably the US’ first truly eminent figure in the field.

In the 1970s, von Mehren and members of the firm represented two US oil companies (Texaco and California Asiatic Oil) in claims against the Libyan government that led to a landmark award (the TOPCO case).

The practice passed into the hands of David W Rivkin and Donald Donovan, who have presided over a strong international expansion. Although there have been bumps along the way, there is now a solid European practice on the back of, for the most part, home-grown partners.

Even more importantly, the team has consistently achieved big results in truly difficult cases. In the past decade, it has secured figures north of US$500 million on behalf of First Eagle Funds, Central European Media Enterprises and Hyundai Heavy Industries, to name a few.

The group takes its role in the broader life of the arbitration community seriously, and many of its lawyers are to be found in key positions at various arbitral bodies and associations. It’s also produced its own protocol on how to reduce arbitral costs.

The practice handles all three areas of work with an even emphasis – public international, commercial and investment arbitration. It’s now starting to expand into Asia.


The key offices for arbitration are now London and New York, and Paris to a slightly lesser degree. In the future, expect the list to include Hong Kong. Two partners – Lord Peter Goldsmith QC and Christopher Tahbaz – have agreed to move to Asia part time.

Who uses it?

Aditya Birla Group, Daewoo Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Virgin Galactic, GLG, Norilsk Nickel, Occidental, Perenco, Tethyan Copper Company, UPM-Kymmene – the list goes on. Asian work has been picking up thanks to Lord Goldsmith’s work in the region.

Track record

In a nutshell: top-notch. Debevoise’s track record is garlanded with eye-catching sums. Examples include US$500 million for US financial institution First Eagle in a claim against the Bank for International Settlements; US$120 million for Occidental in an UNCITRAL claim against Ecuador (separate from its US$3 billion ICSID claim); US$360 million for Central European Media Enterprises against the Czech Republic (which the firm also enforced); and US$750 million for Hyundai Heavy Industries in a battle for control of an oil refining venture.

Recent events

Jean-Marie Burguburu, a former Paris Bar bâtonnier, joined as of counsel in Paris. Partner John Missing, who’d been litigator in DC, moved to London to participate in international arbitration work. Lord Goldsmith QC and Christopher Tahbaz announced that they will be working partly from Hong Kong in the future, and three associates were added to the Hong Kong office in preparation.

Sophie Lamb and Catherine Amirfar were both selected for the new GAR “45 under 45”.

Mark Friedman became co-chair of the IBA’s arbitration committee.

Donald Donovan was elected president of the American Society of International Law. He was also shortlisted for GAR’s “Arbitrator of the Year” award.

Meanwhile, Debevoise’s case for Hyundai Heavy Industries (conducted as co-counsel with Bae Kim & Lee) won the GAR “Win of the Year award”.

Client comment

Contacted by GAR, one regular user gave the firm a ringing endorsement: “They are as plugged in to the international arbitration community as anyone, but I think they are smarter and easier to work with,” they said. “Better prepared and more in control than our opponents, they are not cheap but you do get good value.”

Laura Abrahamson, senior in-house counsel at Occidental Petroleum Corporation, is also effusive. She calls David W Rivkin and his team “our ‘go-to’ lawyers for international arbitration”.

She explains: “In our largest case, Ecuador has retained “name” lawyers at [two other GAR 100 firms]. At almost every hearing, Ecuador has four to six partners on its side of the table, along with a cadre of associates. Despite being routinely significantly outnumbered (we have never had more than two partners at a hearing and usually only five lawyers) David and his team consistently out-lawyer our adversaries. Time and time again they demonstrate a better understanding of the record, the facts and the legal issues.”

Rivkin in particular “has an unerring instinct for understanding what the arbitrators will find important and how to best address those factual and legal issues up front. He also understands the importance of consensus among arbitrators and looks for areas of agreement between the parties to make their decision easier. David’s excellent relationships with the tribunal members, impeccable integrity and his credibility in the international arbitration arena is a critical asset for us,” she says.

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