HvdB celebrated its 10th birthday, promoted its first home-grown partner and opened a foreign branch
- People in Who’s Who:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 28 (of which 6 is as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Founded in September 2001, Hanotiau & van den Berg is widely regarded as the first arbitration boutique. It was named after Belgian Bernard Hanotiau, a former partner at CMS Derks Star Busmann in Brussels, and Dutch arbitrator Albert Jan van den Berg, formerly of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Amsterdam. They chose the boutique model partly to avoid the conflicts of interest that were part and parcel of practising at a large firm – and declared English as the official language of the firm.
Other founding partners were Paul Lefebvre, Pascal Hollander and Sébastien Ryelandt, also from CMS. All remain at the firm except Ryelandt.
Today, the firm consists of 17 lawyers who undertake a variety of international disputes work. On 1 January 2012, the founders admitted the first emale partner to their ranks: German-qualified Niuscha Bassiri.
In the past 10 years, the name partners have grown into two of the world’s foremost arbitrators, whose credentials hardly need restating. In every cycle of research for The International Who’s Who of Commercial Arbitration, the pair finish in the top-five most respected individuals, usually rubbing shoulders with VV Veeder QC and Jan Paulsson.
Van den Berg is an acclaimed specialist on the New York Convention and has proposed a reworked version of the treaty – known as the Miami draft – that seeks elegantly to solve the growing number of problems that those relying on the convention are starting to experience. For part of each year, he also teaches at the University of Miami.
Musing on the firm’s success at an event to mark its 10th anniversary last year, van den Berg said the firm had turned out to be “a much better proposition” than he thought. “When we set it up [without external financing] I’d have been happy to cover my costs. I’ve been delighted with the constant flow of business.”
Van den Berg joked that the secret of the boutique’s success could be the partners’ constant travel, meaning they don’t have to spend much time together. More seriously, a lot has to do with canny hiring and the diversity of the nationalities at the firm; almost half the lawyers are from foreign jurisdictions.
These days, a substantial part of the firm’s activity is arbitrator work. All the partners and a significant number of associates sit on tribunals as well as appearing as counsel and in arbitration-related litigation, especially before the Belgian and Dutch courts.
When the firm opened in 2001, one of its immediate difficulties was its location. “We weren’t in London, New York or Paris or one of the major centres of arbitration,” remembers Hanotiau; they were in Belgium. That actually proved a non-issue, but in any case the firm has now opened in a major arbitration city – Singapore. It opened in Maxwell Chambers on 1 January 2012 and members of the firm are expected to be there on a regular basis in the course of their arbitration work.
Who uses it?
Both Hanotiau and van den Berg are both frequently appointed as arbitrators in ICSID matters, whether arbitrations or annulment hearings. Hanotiau is one of Belgium’s official designees to the ICSID roster and van den Berg one of the Netherlands’ designees.
At time of writing, Hanotiau is sitting on tribunals hearing claims against Argentina, Sri Lanka, Peru and Egypt, and the first-ever claim against Moldova. He sits most often as president or claimant-appointed arbitrator.
Van den Berg is hearing the first-ever mass claim at ICSID – Abaclat v Argentina – and claims against Bulgaria and El Salvador. He has accepted an appointment by the Philippines for an ICSID claim resubmitted by German airport group Fraport AG. He recently chaired an annulment request against Togo.
In terms of counsel the work, the firm says that it is increasingly receiving instructions from Asian companies, particularly in civil law jurisdictions such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos and Thailand.
One of the practice’s big achievements has been the success of the Yearbook of International Arbitration, which it in effect curates. Otherwise, apart from public arbitral awards rendered by the firm, there’s little information, sadly, about the firm’s work in the public domain.
Niuscha Bassiri, who is of German-Iranian dissent, was promoted on 1 January, the same day as the boutique opened in Singapore.
Hanotiau accepted GAR’s “Arbitrator of the Year” award in Seoul, while van den Berg was named “Arbitration Lawyer of the Year” by GAR’s sister publication, The International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers.