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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Dechert

05 March 2012

The practice expanded in Washington, DC, Moscow and Beijing, but lost part of its Mosco team

People in Who’s Who:
4
Pending cases as counsel:
24
Value of pending counsel work:
US$54 billion
Treaty cases:
6
Current arbitrator appointments:
35 (of which 17 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
6

Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the now-defunct New York firm that served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, Rusty Park, Julian Lew QC and Laurie Craig, to name but a few).

When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005 (after the aforementioned names had long since left), six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert. They were joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer.

Their arrival was followed by a steady rise up the rankings in Paris and more broadly. Several of the team are well regarded as academics and sit as arbitrators. Pierre Mayer indeed was once described, in print, as France’s smartest man.

Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the last few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Washington, DC, Hong Kong, Beijing and Moscow. One of the Washington, DC, recruits was Anne-Marie Whitesell, who joined in 2008 after six years as secretary general of the ICC Court.

Silva Romero was deputy secretary general of the ICC Court, while Whitesell was there. A Colombian national, he appeared in GAR’s “45 under 45” in 2006 and has spearheaded Dechert’s increasingly busy Latin American casework – the Paris office is now home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish-speaking disputes lawyers in city.

Dechert opened in Moscow in 2009, bringing on board a four-strong arbitration team from Salans. In 2010, Ivan Marisin – formerly head of Clifford Chance’s Russia and CIS arbitration – joined as regional practice head, bringing two colleagues with him. However, he has now switched firms again (see “Recent events”, below).

Most recently, in 2011, Dechert bolstered its Asia profile by hiring yet another Coudert alumnus – Jingzhou Tao, who joined the Beijing office as head of Asia arbitration after three years with Jones Day.

Network

The arbitration practice is concentrated in Paris, Washington, DC, London, Moscow, Hong Kong and more recently Beijing, though it also has offices elsewhere.

Who uses it?

States and state-owned entities. Taiwan’s government and navy retained the firm for a high-profile ICC claim against French defence contractor Thales involving allegations of kickbacks. Spanish shipbuilder Navantia also used it as co-counsel in a submarine dispute with another French contractor.

The team seems to have a good reputation with left-leaning Latin American governments. Ecuador is one – using it for three high-stakes ICSID claims brought by oil companies Occidental, Burlington Resources (a ConocoPhillips subsidiary) and Perenco. Bolivia is another – the state ditched its former counsel in favour of Dechert’s Paris office for an assortment of treaty claims (mostly now settled).

Other clients of note include France Telecom and French investment business Eurazeo.

Track record

The Thales case made the headlines in 2010 when Dechert’s client won €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling).

And Ecuador will have been pleased with a jurisdictional ruling in 2010 by the tribunal considering Burlington’s ICSID claim. The panel threw out three of four claims relating to a 99 per cent tax on windfall profits, though it allowed an expropriation claim to proceed to the merits.

Depending on your point of view, the firm also scored a victory for France Telecom in a complicated dispute with Orascom for control of Egyptian mobile network Mobinil. An ICC tribunal found in favour of France Telecom in 2009 and ordered Orascom to sell its stake in Mobinil. (The sale didn’t happen in the end – the Egyptian government brokered a settlement last April under rather different terms. France Telecom paid Orascom US$300 million.)

Dechert also helped Bolivia settle an expropriation claim by a Dutch unit of Telecom Italia for US$100 million – about 10 per cent of what the investor had asked for. The long-running case had spawned ICSID and ad hoc proceedings as well as applications for injunctive relief in the Washington, DC courts. (Cleary Gottlieb were on the other side.)

Around the same time, the firm helped Bolivia settle a treaty claim at The Hague brought by a German-Peruvian oil consortium for US$16 million – around half of what the claimants wanted.

Recent events

The DC office scored a coup in 2011 with the hire of Ecuadorean counsel Alvaro Galindo, the former director of international arbitration matters at Ecuador’s attorney general’s office. He also had a hand in drafting Ecuador’s arbitration law.

In Paris, Spanish lawyer José-Manuel García Represa was promoted to the partnership. He’s a key player in the practice’s Latin America work and spent five years with Latham & Watkins in Paris before joining in 2008.

As mentioned, Jingzhou Tao arrived as Asia arbitration practice head in Beijing. He was one of the first international arbitration specialists to be appointed to CIETAC’s expert committee – responsible for revising its rules and training arbitrators – and is a member of the ICC and LCIA courts. Tao is working closely with the office in Paris, where he is also admitted to practise.

In Moscow, Russia and CIS disputes head Ivan Marisin and colleague Vasily Kuznetsov decamped to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, barely a year after joining Dechert from Clifford Chance.

The team won Ecuador at least some breathing space in its dispute with Perenco at ICSID by raising doubts about whether the claimant – a Bahamian entity – qualifies as being under French control for the purposes of the France-Ecuador BIT. The tribunal upheld jurisdiction anyway (over claims brought under two oil contracts), but postponed a decision on BIT jurisdiction until the merits phase. Unusually, the panel asked the French government for help in deciphering the treaty.

The practice’s work for Bolivia at ICSID continues apace. As well as the long-running Quiborax case (notorious for Bolivia’s attempt to have the entire panel disqualified on grounds of bias), it’s defending the state against a claim by Argentina’s Pan American Energy.

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