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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson

18 February 2016

The US firm has shut two Asia offices but continues to pull in briefs from the likes of Total

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 20
Value of pending counsel work: US$4.5 billion
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 16 (of which 7 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 4

Fried Frank’s arbitration practice began to take shape in Washington, DC, in the early 1990s, but it was three wins at the turn of the decade that made it a fixture within the firm.

In one case, the firm obtained an award for specific performance for a major multinational oil company in an UNCITRAL claim against its Turkish joint venture partner, and later an award for breach of oral contract. In another, the firm successfully defended the United Nations in an UNCITRAL claim brought by a Canadian company. It also defended a major European aerospace company in a patent infringement arbitration brought by a large US multinational.

The lawyers that worked on those cases – Elliot Polebaum, Douglas Baruch and Joseph LoBue – remain at the core of the international arbitration team. Polebaum is the practice head and splits his time between the US and Paris.

More recently, the arbitration practice has expanded to include offices in Europe but shut down offices in Asia.

The group’s experience to date is in international commercial arbitration rather than investment cases. Several members of the firm also sit as arbitrators in commercial cases.


As well as teams in the US and Paris, Fried Frank has a London team which covers Russia-related work.

In 2015, the firm announced that it was closing its Singapore and Hong Kong offices, prompting the departure of partner Alfred Wu, senior consultant Philip Nunn and a team of associates to Norton Rose Fulbright.

Partner Huen Wong, who was chair of the HKIAC until 2013, remains, splitting his time between Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Who uses it?

Clients include Chevron, Total, France Telecom, Thales, General Electric, Dassault Aviation, Hawker Beechcraft, Oranto Petroleum, Russian aluminium producer Rusal (which followed Cherryman from Bryan Cave), and Turkey’s Setkom. The firm recently acted for Pavel Durov, the man behind “the Russian Facebook” VKontakte, in a shareholder dispute.

Philip Nunn in Hong Kong was among the counsel representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo in landmark proceedings in the Hong Kong courts relating to enforcement of ICC awards held by US distressed debt fund FG Hemisphere.

Track record

In 2014, the firm was instructed by Cerner, a Kansas-based subcontractor of Japanese company Fujitsu, which reportedly won a £700 million claim against the UK government over a failed IT system for the NHS. The case has led to a parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s handling of the dispute.

Further back, the firm firm helped French aerospace company Thales Alenia Space defeat a €358 million AAA/ICDR claim over a satellite contract. In 2012, a tribunal dismissed the claim, filed by US’s Globalstar, and awarded Thales €53 million in cancellation charges.

It secured another good result for West African petroleum company Oranto in an ICC arbitration over terminated exploration and production rights for an offshore oil block in Sierra Leone. After the firm filed its statement of claim and supporting evidence, the state capitulated and agreed to restore Oranto’s rights in the block.

Fried Frank also defended Hawker Beechcraft in an ICC claim brought by Airbus UK – limiting the client’s liability to £6.65 million, substantially less than the £40 million Airbus had claimed.

TNK-BP, the joint venture between BP and Russia’s Alfa-
Access-Renova consortium, instructed Fried Frank to represent it in claims against BP and its directors following BP’s aborted attempt to enter into a joint venture with Rosneft to explore and extract oil from the Arctic shelf off the coast of Russia. The claims were dropped as part of a US$325 million settlement at the end of 2012.

Recent events

Since the last GAR 100, the practice has been retained by French oil company Total in an ICSID claim against Uganda.

Aside from the Hong Kong practitioners, it lost its London-based international disputes practice head Nick Cherryman to King & Spalding. But it retains two key figures in London – James Kitching, who specialises in banking and financial disputes, and Justin Michaelson, former head of international arbitration at SJ Berwin.

Client comment

Christine Guerrier, in-house counsel for French aerospace company Thales Group, says that when the opposing side wanted a fast-track arbitration, Fried Frank was able to grasp difficult issues quickly and “smartly negotiate the time necessary to prepare the counterclaim”. She commends the firm for its teamwork, pointing out that Polebaum allowed the younger associates on the team to perform cross-examinations Marc Borello, general counsel at Thales Alenia Space, says a group led by Polebaum was able to convince an ICDR tribunal to dismiss all claims against the company, while accepting its counterclaim – calling its work “remarkable”.

A French client says the team has expertise, the ability to listen and a sensible approach to business. Polebaum’s fluency in French counts for a lot, the client said.

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