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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Watson Farley & Williams

18 February 2016

Back in the GAR 100 after two years

People in Who’s Who Legal: 54
Value of pending counsel work: US$1.7 billion
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 9 (of which 3 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 3

Founded in 1982 as a breakaway from Norton Rose, the firm initially focused its attention on shipping and offshore construction disputes.

In the early 2000s, a group led by two partners in London helped establish the firm’s name in international arbitration. They won a pitch to represent India in the state’s first investment treaty arbitration and later brought in Vivendi as a client for the Deutsche Telekom arbitration over control of a Polish telecoms firm. During the same era, the Singapore office began to develop a local name for expertise in the field.

All of the senior partners from that period have since been poached by other practices, but the arbitration group they built has endured in the hands of the able younger partners who worked for them on the early mega-cases.

The group – led by litigation and arbitration head Andrew Savage since 2007 – has expanded in recent years with lateral hires in London, Paris and Bangkok.

Network

The practice continues to have a strong presence in London and South East Asia (Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore), with the ability to call on colleagues in New York, Hamburg, Rome and Paris.

In 2011, the firm’s Singapore office formed a joint venture with local firm Asia Practice, allowing it to act on the supervisory court aspects of Singapore-seated arbitrations for the first time. The joint venture, WFW Asia Practice, is led by Marcus Gordon, who has headed the firm’s Singapore arbitration group since 2009, and Singapore-qualified Asia practice partner Mark Tan.

Who uses it?

The team has worked for India, Pakistan, Zambia, Greece and Bangladesh in the past few years, as well as various banks, energy businesses and metals companies. Vivendi and Trafigura are repeat clients. The firm has also been retained by the Bahamas to consult on its arbitration legislation. Another client is US mobile satellite operator Globalstar (in an ICDR claim against France’s Thales Alenia Space).

The firm is also represented a Mauritian subsidiary of a UK-listed company in a US$100 million SIAC arbirration in relation to a broadcast licence agreement.

Other clients include offshore drilling contractor Aban Offshore, Ford and AIG.

Track record

Watson Farley & Williams represented the winning side in one of the big cases of 2010 – the final round of Dallah v Pakistan – in which the UK Supreme Court refused to enforce an ICC award against the firm’s client, Pakistan. The case is thought to be only the third time the English courts have declined to enforce an award under the New York Convention. It earned the firm (along with its appointed barrister, Toby Landau QC of Essex Court Chambers) the “Court Win of the Year” award at the GAR Awards in 2011. But the position later evened out after Dallah achieved recognition and enforcement of the award in the Paris, the seat of the arbitration.

The firm also helped Hydro Aluminium secure an LCIA award in a row with Tajikistan and defended an Iranian offshore construction company against a US$100 million ICC claim by an Italian counterparty.

In 2012, it successfully defended a US$350,000 award for Pakistani cotton buyer Olympia, and obtained a good result for United Palm Oil Industry, a Thai palm oil producer, in an ICC arbitration against a Malaysia-based industrial-boiler manufacturer.

Recent events

In 2015, Watson Farley promoted Andrew Ward and Andrew Waters to the partnership in London. Ward specialises in maritime disputes, while Waters focuses on the financial services sector. The firm also saw the departure of Russian arbitration specialist Olga Bagley.

The firm has been busy in the solar energy sector during the past two years: in 2014, it won a €4 million award for Chinese investment company Jiangsu Zongyi in an arbitration with an Italian constructor of photovoltaic plants. The firm is also advising renewable energy company 333 Solar Italia in another €4 million claim against the constructor of photovoltaic plants.

The firm also scored a major victory for the operators of the largest petrochemical refinery in Thailand. The dispute resulted in 21 awards in favour of the operator against a Hong Kong company following several concurrent ad hoc arbitrations in London. The Commercial Court upheld all the awards in 2015.

The firm says that it is now acting for a Thai tin-can manufacturer in a US$70 million UNCITRAL claim against a multinational food and beverage company over the termination of a manufacturing agreement, and for a Chinese supplier in a US$42 million ICC claim over a power plant.

The firm is also representing a Korean contractor in a dispute over a power plant in Ghana.

Client comment

Constantinos Emmanuel, managing partner of Theo V Sioufas Law Offices in Greece, says that the firm’s performance in a recent arbitration in New York was “exemplary,” adding that he was particularly impressed with partner John Kissane: “A person a client may rely upon.”

Matthew Cook, barrister at One Essex Court and co-counsel with the firm on several LCIA arbitrations relating to oil and gas drilling operations, tells GAR: “the firm had a real understanding of the industries involved… and were inventive in finding legal solutions to the clients’ problems. It is their specialist knowledge which really makes Watson Farley stand out from its competitors.”

Sean O’Sullivan QC, barrister at 4 Pump Court, also praises Hutcheon, describing him as “sensible and effective.” He says that the partners are commercially-minded, with a “strong strategic focus and a good sense of what needs to be done to win cases and what is less important.”

Beatriz León, legal counsel at Spanish industrial group MAESSA, praises the firm’s Hamburg team for their diligence and willingness to negotiate with the opposing party. “They have given us enormous support, broken down every step, and kept us informed about the evolution of the process,” she says.

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