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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

White & Case

05 March 2012

White & Case delivered one of the results of the year, for a group of Italian bondholders.

People in Who’s Who:
14
Pending cases as counsel:
181
Value of pending counsel work:
US$54 billion
Treaty cases:
32
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
21

Founded 25 years ago, the White & Case international arbitration practice developed out of the firm’s long history at the heart of international affairs. France made firm co-founder Justin DuPratt White a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in recognition of the firm’s work during World War I; it performed the legal work required for the supply of US munitions to Great Britain and France.

In the 1950s, the firm acted on one of the most important arbitrations of the 20th century: Aramco v Saudi Arabia (the White & Case team featured a young associate who would later become famous: former ICJ judge Stephen Schwebel).

Since then, the practice has grown in numerous locations: Paris, London, Washington, DC, Stockholm, Mexico City and, more recently, Singapore, making lateral hires where required to build strength and becoming known as a tough competitor in all circumstances.

In the early 1990s it became one of the first to appear on ICSID cases – defending Indonesia in one of the very earliest cases to be heard at the centre, brought by Amco. (A lawyer on the other side was Paul Friedland, then at Coudert Brothers; today he is the global head of White & Case’s international arbitration practice group.) One of the founders of the Washington, DC, office, which led that early ICSID work, is now a regular ICSID arbitrator: Charles N Brower.

Its “firsts” at ICSID include: the first case registered against a Latin American state (Santa Elena v Costa Rica); the first Energy Charter Treaty cases to reach a merits hearing (AES v Hungary and Plama v Bulgaria); and one of the earliest NAFTA cases (Mondev v US).

More recently, it’s become the first firm to essay a class-action style treaty claim (Abaclat & Others v Argentina).

Individual offices have developed some sub-specialisms; the Paris and London teams enjoy a great name for project and construction disputes of the largest kind. Christopher Seppälä in Paris is a particular authority; he is the long-standing legal adviser of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC). Philip Capper is also revered in construction circles.

In the US, the Washington, DC and Mexico offices have developed a big Latin American practice. Michael Polkinghorne in Paris, meanwhile, is regarded as one of the leading authorities on oil and gas and energy disputes.

The practice group now boasts around 150 full-time specialists – making it one of the largest in this book (possibly the largest).

It is also one of the least male-dominated: partners include Carolyn Lamm (the recent past president of the American Bar Association), Abby Cohen Smutny, Andrea Menaker and Ank Santens.

Although in the past there were stories that the different offices, at times, tend to compete, these days the practice is much better at showing a united front. To help it take the next step, a year ago it appointed a single, global international arbitration practice manager, who is based in New York.

Who uses it?

The team doesn’t just have clients – it has regular clients. Firms and states it is representing that are “repeat” customers include: Naftogas (two matters); Oil Insurance Limited (four matters); Georgia (eight matters); Hochtief (three matters); Garry Kasparov and various chess grandmasters (two matters); Ukraine (seven matters); Peru (five matters); Skanska (two matters); and Bulgaria (four matters).

The firm is also working for tens of thousands of Italian bondholders who want compensation from Argentina.

Track record

First class. White & Case is one of the toughest firms to take on according to opponents, especially when it comes “loaded for bear”, as a source described it.

The firm more than proved that in late 2004 when it won US$877 million for a Czech bank against Slovakia (to date, the largest-ever ICSID award).

And it has shut down case after case on behalf of sovereign clients, often winning costs (US$6 million for Romania on one occasion, and US$7.4 million for Bulgaria).

The team secured one of the most high-profile “wins” of 2011, when a majority ICSID panel said a US$1 billion claim by 60,000 Italian bondholders could proceed to the merits. (Abaclat & Others v Argentina).

The success isn’t confined to treaty matters either. The Asian team won strong commendation from arbitrators canvassed off the record about the best advocates they’d seen in the last year (for 2011’s GAR Awards). That team recently won every penny of a claim for an office supplies business, despite taking on a French firm, in France.

Recent events

The firm made two relevant steps in eastern Europe, bringing in Peggy Suica-Neagu in Romania and a team from CMS in Poland. Suica-Neagu was formerly in charge of disputes at OMV Petrom, one of the largest oil and gas producers in eastern Europe; while the Polish team consisted of 20-lawyers, including partner Pawel Pietkiewicz, who is a well-regarded local name.

It also promoted two arbitration-focused lawyers to the partnership: Matthew Secomb in Paris, a former ICC counsel who works on energy and construction matters; and Michael Turrini in London, who also covers construction work.

It added strength to the team in Mexico, moving partner Rafael Llano Oddone from New York and hiring an additional dispute resolution associate, Viviana Castro-Hurtado.

The firm was also gratified – in the year after it hired John Templeman as global practice manager – to see its ranking in a number of locations improve when the new editions of directories came out.

A number of members of the group received honours or took on a new role.

Claes Zettermarck became chairman of the Swedish Bar Association. Paul Friedland joined the executive committee of the American Arbitration Association. Abby Cohen Smutny joined a similar committee at the American Society for International Law. And Paul Cowan joined the executive board of the group organising the International Nuclear Law Association’s next World Congress – which takes place in 2012.

Two members of the practice – Ank Santens and Andrea Menaker – were selected for the new GAR “45 under 45”. Meanwhile, Charles Nairac was one of four founding members of the French Arbitration Committee’s new under-40 group, CFA 40.

On the publishing side, Paul Friedland and Rafael Llano Oddone released a Spanish version of Friedland’s book, Arbitration Clauses for International Contracts.

The Singapore office had a good year. It has brought in a major new client in Indonesia that it’s asked for the time being not be named. Otherwise, the big news was the jurisdictional win in Abaclat, and the events that followed (the resignation of Argentina’s dissenting arbitrator, Georges Abi-Saab, after issuing a scathing attack on the majority decision). In a measure of how divisive the case has been in the arbitration community, the majority decision was named both “Arbitration Decision of the Year” and “Most Controversial or Surprising Decision of the Year” by the OGEMID listserv; while the Abi-Saab dissent was the runner-up in both categories.

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