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GAR 100 - 5th Edition

Kirkland & Ellis

06 March 2012

The US litigation powerhouse added two international arbitration partners in 2011

Pending cases as counsel:
17
Value of pending counsel work:
US$ 3.5 billion
Treaty cases:
3
Current arbitrator appointments:
2 (of which 1 is as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
1

It is rare for an international firm to earn the largest part of its revenue from court cases, but Kirkland & Ellis is one that does just that, helped by some huge instructions – including defending BP in the multi-district litigation over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The size of the firm’s litigation practice has therefore tended to overshadow any name for international arbitration – but in contrast to similar US litigation powerhouses, Kirkland & Ellis does have a serious international arbitration team, working mainly from London.

The firm started to build up that capability in 2005 with the hire of partners Christopher Colbridge and Rajinder Bassi from Shearman & Sterling, where Colbridge was head of the London arbitration group. Both their careers began at Clifford Chance. Under their stewardship, the group has grown through a mix of internal promotions – such as Chiraag Shah and Harkiran Hothi in 2010 – and strategic hires. Colbridge is now also sitting as arbitrator.

Network

Outside London, Kirkland & Ellis has several litigation partners with international arbitration experience in Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, San Francisco and New York. One name to know is partner Mi Baumann in LA, who won an award in 2009 from a Californian publication for his arbitration and ADR work. He was lead counsel to aircraft manufacturer Boeing in an arbitration with defence technology company Northrop Grumman concerning a classified US government programme.

Who uses it?

Aside from Boeing, clients include General Motors, chemicals companies Dow and Innospec, and Dedon GmbH, an outdoor furniture maker founded by a former Bayern Munich goalkeeper.

Track record

Colbridge led a team that won a multimillion-dollar award for ICS Inspection and Control Services – a customs and tax monitoring firm – in an ICC arbitration against Kenya. The win was backed up by a victory at the enforcement stage in the High Court in London including a freezing order on Kenyan assets that secured a full settlement of the claims.

Bassi, meanwhile, not only got one of her clients off 95 per cent of an UNCITRAL claim for US$250 million (winning most of her costs too), the two sides also discovered afterwards that their relations were still sufficiently amicable to go on doing business.

The firm has also had the rare experience of asking a French court to act as an appointing authority and to constitute an ad hoc tribunal in a case where the ICC Court decided that the arbitration clause in the contract was incompatible with the ICC rules. The court in the end agreed.

Recent events

The firm’s London office gained two new partners in 2011 – one internal promotion and one lateral hire. Ben Sanderson, the lateral, joined from Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in April, while Ulrich Payne, who moved to the firm in August 2010 from Simmons & Simmons was made partner.

There was also a new instruction for the firm from long-time client Agility, the parent company of ICS Inspection and Control Services. Colbridge and Shah are acting as counsel to Agility in the case filed at ICSID in March 2011 against Pakistan, in which Agility claims that it is owed more than US$100 million in fees for an automated customs duties service that was fitted in several ports and airports around the country. Although the firm has kept resolutely silent about its work for BP concerning the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it was widely noted that the British oil major sought to arbitrate its liability dispute with the minority-interest co-owner of the ill-fated well, Anadarko. Martin Boles and another Kirkland & Ellis partner, Richard Godfrey in Chicago, obtained a stay of court proceedings between BP and Anadarko in Louisiana, alongside Mike Brock of Covington & Burling in Washington, DC.

In the end, the arbitration only got as far as BP filing a notice of dispute, as the parties reached a US$4 billion settlement in October. The extent of Kirkland & Ellis’s participation in the settlement is unclear.

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