Part of a "best friends" network, the UK firm keeps a lower profile than others but has worked on some significant cases
|Pending cases as counsel:||26|
|Value of pending counsel work:||US$40 billion+|
Slaughter and May’s international arbitration practice grew out of contentious work done by the firm in the 1980s, notably work on a case relating to the high profile Westland Helicopters affair that split Margaret Thatcher’s government. In the following decade it advised Standard Chartered Bank in matters arising from the Bombay Stock Market scandal – when employees from the bank’s Mumbai office illegally diverted funds to speculate.
By this time, Nick Archer and Nick Gray had emerged as key figures in the practice. Archer retired in April 2015, with Gray and partner James Stacey taking over the practice.
The firm prides itself on eschewing the “star” culture of many arbitration groups, instead providing the right team for the job drawn from eight partners and eight associates who specialise in this area and its “best friends” network. It makes regular use of barristers.
Rather than operating through its own international offices, Slaughter and May works as in conjunction with a group of other firms from around the world. The “best friends” network includes Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Bredin Prat, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Hengeler Mueller and Uría Menéndez, based in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain respectively.
In Asia, Slaughter and May was the first City firm to establish a presence in Hong Kong, in 1974, and also has an office in Beijing, which opened in 2009. Arbitration work in the region is led by partner Mark Hughes. In Europe, it has offices in London and Brussels.
Who uses it?
According to the May 2015 Corporate Advisers Ranking Guide, Slaughter and May advises more London Stock Market, FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 clients than any other firm in the UK but it is reluctant to name names.
Standard Chartered Bank has remained a client. German energy company RWE turned to the firm for what was reported to be one of the largest contract disputes ever (see below). Other clients include Sociedade de Fomento Industrial, a major Indian exporter of iron ore, Cable & Wireless, Siemens and Rolls-Royce.
After the Western Helicopter and Bombay Stock Market matters, the firm claims to have developed a niche in high-profile, corporate-threatening work.
Nick Gray advised in Lesotho Highlands Development Authority v Impregilo, the leading House of Lords case on the ability of the courts to interfere with arbitral awards.
In 2012, the firm earned a “disputes deal of the year” award from India Business Law Journal after it won an ICC award for Indian ore exporter SFI in a dispute with state-owned Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation that raised challenging economic and political issues. It also helped to enforce the award in Canada.
In November 2015, the firm settled a multibillion-dollar LCIA case on behalf of German energy company RWE, which was brought by the UAE’s Dana Gas and Crescent Petroleum in 2010 after RWE announced plans to help the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan develop its gas transport infrastructure. The UAE companies accused RWE of breaching confidentiality agreements it had signed during abortive talks to acquire a stake in their subsidiary, Pearl Petroleum.
In the wake of a partial award that held RWE liable for some breaches of confidentiality, the parties reached an “amicable and mutually beneficial” agreement as part of which RWE acquire a 10 per cent stake in Pearl. The case was described by The American Lawyer in 2013 as the largest contract arbitration in the world.
Slaughter and May also advised RWE in its successful defence of a US$1.4 billion damages claim subject to LCIA arbitration brought by Russsia’s Sintez Group and on related litigation in multiple disputes.
The firm also recently secured an award in favour of a Central Asian state-owned bank in a US$600 million ICC arbitration with another financial institution concerning a billion-dollar fraud. It continues to advise the client on a further claim for the same amount.
An ICC pre-arbitral referee procedure in which it took on a German steel manufacturer on behalf of a Russian steel pipemill company saw the German company’s application dismissed with costs. The dispute was worth US$150 million.
In July 2015, the firm helped Malaysia’s YTL Power Generation win US$125 million in an UNCITRAL claim against Malaysian state oil and gas company Petronas arising from an 18-year dispute over gas payments. The case was heard in Kuala Lumpur by three retired UK Supreme Court justices, and came to light after YTL applied to enforce the award in the US.
It is also acting on a dispute for a Russian state-owned gas distribution service concerning emission reductions and credits under the Kyoto Protocol.
On the enforcement side, it has been engaged in proceedings in Cyprus and Greece, including seeking to enforce an award for SEB Trygg arising from a dispute with InterAmerican Life Assurance related to alleged misselling. The US$50 million SCC arbitration in London was presided over by Jan Paulsson.
Last year, it also undertook litigation in England and Wales on behalf of a European travel industry player seeking an injunction in relation to an arbitration.
On the personnel front, the major development was the retirement of Nick Archer and leadership succession.
The firm continues to participate in the annual “best friends” debate on international arbitration, compered by Matt Frei of Channel 4 News.