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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Dentons

18 February 2016

Table incorporates figures for Rodyk & Davidson

Forging a “Pacific Rim powerhouse” with a series of tie-ups – and now defending China at ICSID

People in Who’s Who Legal 5
Pending cases as counsel 130
Value of pending counsel work US$29.6 billion
Treaty cases 6
Current arbitrator appointments 37 (of which 17 are
as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 18

Dentons was the product of a 2013 merger between UK–US firm SNR Denton, Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain and Paris-based Salans. Another tie-up with mainland Chinese firm Dacheng Law Offices took effect in November 2015, resulting in the addition of Chinese characters to the firm’s official name (though it continues to be known simply as Dentons outside China). As this book went to press, the firm’s partnership has also approved plans for a combination with Singaporean firm Rodyk & Davidson and Australian firm Gadens.

Of the different merger partners, Salans and Rodyk & Davidson have enjoyed the strongest reputation in international arbitration, both having been listed in the GAR 100 for several years. However, the other merger partners bring some experience in this field, partly thanks to their transactional work for clients in oil and gas and financial services.

Salans was founded in Paris in 1978 by US and French lawyers, and gained a name in the late 1980s for its trade work across the Iron Curtain. The firm handled some of the earliest disputes arising from Western investment in the Russia and CIS region, and East–West trade has continued to account for around half of its arbitration caseload, with much of the rest coming from Greater China, Africa and North America.

The legacy Salans practice (now the Europe arm of Dentons) is led from Paris by Jean-Christophe Honlet, with Barton Legum heading up the busy investment arbitration group. Legum joined in 2009 from Debevoise, having formerly headed the US Department of State’s NAFTA claims division.

SNR Denton developed its arbitration practice as an offshoot of its energy work. Oil and gas clients provide a “guaranteed pipeline” of disputes work, the firm says. It has since branched out into international trade and finance. Partner Liz Tout headed its London practice for over a decade and now co-heads Dentons’ litigation and dispute resolution practice.

The tie-up with Rodyk & Davidson is particularly impressive. Rodyk’s arbitration department is headed by Philip Jeyaretnam SC, who is also chairman of Singapore’s well-known arbitration venue, Maxwell Chambers.

Rodyk’s team also includes maritime specialist Lawrence Teh, who co-chairs the IBA’s Asia-Pacific arbitration group and the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum; and Lok Vi Ming SC, the current president of the Singapore Law Society who sits on the board of the new Singapore International Mediation Centre.

Network

The combined firm has 2,500 lawyers in 79 offices. Paris and London were the centre of the Salans arbitration practice and remain at the heart of Dentons post-merger, even though the US offices are more numerous. Salans has also contributed boots on the ground in Almaty, Bucharest, Prague, St Petersburg and Warsaw, while SNR Denton brought offices in Dubai, Muscat, Qatar and Hong Kong. Fraser Milner Casgrain contributed Canadian offices, in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Dacheng brings umpteen offices in China and the new tie-up with Rodyk & Davidson in Singapore and Gadens in Australia creates a significant presence in the Pacific Rim.

In short, it is everywhere except Latin America and the Caribbean, even boasting offices in Cairo and Casablanca, and associate offices or alliance firms throughout Africa, which may explain its large amount of Africa-related gas price review work.

Who uses it?

Dentons’ investment arbitration clients on the claimant side have included Canadian pharma group Apotex, ExxonMobil, Murphy Oil, Canada’s Niko Resources, and Sudanese state oil company Sudapet (in a claim against South Sudan). It has also won instructions from respondent states, most notably Australia (in the high-profile Philip Morris case), China (in its second-ever ICSID claim) and Kyrgyzstan.

On the commercial side, it has acted for Gazprom in a gas pricing dispute with Lithuania that went to the European Court of Justice. Other past and present clients include E Energija, Nakheel, Omantel, Total, Deutsche Bank and Starwood Hotels.

Rodyk & Davidson’s clients are known to include Indonesian state gas transmission company PT Perusahaan Gas Negara.

Track record

Though it didn’t appear as counsel of record in the case, Dentons played a behind-the-scenes role advising Australia in a multibillion-dollar treaty claim brought by Philip Morris over the state’s tobacco plain-packaging legislation. An UNCITRAL panel threw the case out in late 2015, holding that a corporate restructuring to invoke treaty protection amounted to an abuse of process.

The team has had success on both sides of the ledger at ICSID too. In 2008, Salans won a US$125 million award for a pair of Turkish telecoms clients – Rumeli Telekom and Telsim – in an ICSID claim against Kazakhstan. In another case, it helped Kyrgyzstan settle a claim brought by Oxus Gold without any payment by the state or its instrumentalities.

The group also helped oil refinery owner Rompetrol win a landmark ruling against Romania that the conduct of a criminal investigation of its executives amounted to a treaty breach – though it didn’t succeed on its damages claim.

In 2009, Salans helped Vivendi claw back lost ground in a battle over ownership rights in a Polish telecoms firm, winning a €1.9 billion award in an LCIA arbitration, followed by settlement in 2011, which saw Vivendi collect over €1 billion. It won its client US$2.3 billion in another LCIA arbitration, but against a by-then bankrupt Polish entity. The result, however, paved the way for Vivendi to receive a billion-dollar payment that spared its blushes somewhat in the saga.

The firm also had a hand in a Russian decision that bears some similarities to the Hilmarton decision in England and the Putrabali case in France: it persuaded a court in Siberia to uphold an award set aside at the place of arbitration.

Recent events

The arbitration practice has acquired six new partners in the past year, including Milán Kohlrusz and István Réczicza from White & Case in Budapest, who have successfully defended Hungary at ICSID. Three arbitration partners joined in New York and Washington through a 2015 merger between Dentons and US firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. Anna Crevon was made a partner in Paris, with others promoted in Muscat and London.

The founder of the Warsaw dispute resolution practice, senior counsel Piotr Nowaczyk, left the firm in 2015 to avoid conflicts of interest as an independent arbitrator.

A team led by Honlet obtained a US$200 million ICC win for a US client against an African state, in an arbitration regarding a contract for implementing customs reform in that state.

The firm finally obtained recognition from Lithuania’s Supreme Court of an SCC award that restrains the country’s energy ministry from litigating claims against Russia’s Gazprom – following a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

Another win saw Barton Legum help ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil win US$13 million in a NAFTA claim against Canada over provincial restrictions on research and development spending.

The firm was retained by China in the state’s second ever claim at ICSID – filed by a South Korean investor in a golf and country club.

Client comment

Chris Outhwaite, director of Customs and Tax Consultancy, used Dentons in a multimillion-dollar ICC claim over a breach of contract by a foreign government. Outhwaite says he received “positive support” throughout the proceedings, and “advice couched in language that was easily understood by non-legal minds”.

He singles out Jean-Christophe Honlet and Augustin Barrier for “demonstrating the highest level of professionalism”.

Ania Brzezinski, vice president for legal services at US paper manufacturer Domtar, calls Dentons “a full-service firm with seasoned lawyers that have a practical business approach. They don’t needlessly drive up fees and are incredibly responsive.” Brzezinski says her company’s claim settled ahead of arbitration, an outcome Dentons was “instrumental” in achieving.

Another client praises the firm’s “dedication to the task and their commonsense attitude”, which is said to provide excellent value for money.

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