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Volterra Fietta

08 February 2013

London’s first public international law boutique has tripled in size.

People in Who’s Who:
Pending cases as counsel:
Value of pending counsel work:
US$20 billion
Treaty cases
Current arbitrator appointments:
2 (none as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

After six years leading the public international law group at Latham & Watkins, Robert Volterra broke away with younger partner Stephen Fietta to found this specialist firm in February 2011.

Two years on, the firm has swelled from four to 13 lawyers and is increasingly prominent in investor-state and state-to-state matters, as well the odd commercial arbitration. It’s already acting for claimants in ICSID matters against Venezuela, Georgia, Hungary and Turkey.

Volterra, a Canadian who cut his teeth working with Jan Paulsson in Paris and then later at Herbert Smith, has counsel experience in a variety of PIL forums. He has acted for states including Bahrain, Barbados, Eritrea and Chile in territorial and maritime boundary disputes before the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Fietta also has experience beyond the normal array of arbitral rules; he’s worked on cases at the ICJ, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the European Court of Human Rights. He featured in GAR’s “45 under 45” for 2011, Volterra having also appeared in the 2006 edition.

Who uses it?

Koch Industries and Owens Illinois have both retained it for expropriation claims against Venezuela at ICSID. Former colleagues at Latham & Watkins are acting as co-counsel in those matters.

US businessman Ronald Lauder (son of Estée) is also a client – via Cypriot company Vigotop, which he owns. Vigotop has turned to the firm for an ICSID claim against Hungary concerning an aborted project to build a billion-euro casino resort overlooking Lake Velence.

Other ICSID clients include Turkish construction company Karmer Marble Tourism in a claim against Georgia; and Alapli Elektrik, a Dutch investor, in a claim against Turkey.

A lot of their cases involve third-party funding.

On the state side, Croatia is a client, as is Colombia.

Track record

It’s early days for the firm, but the pair certainly enjoyed some successes while at Latham & Watkins.

In 2011, for instance, Volterra helped Ukraine defeat an ICSID claim by German technology group GEA. (In a much-discussed award, a tribunal chaired by Albert Jan van den Berg ruled that neither an ICC arbitral award nor a settlement agreement could qualify as an “investment” under the ICSID Convention or the Germany-Ukraine BIT.)

In another Latham case, Stephen Fietta helped Croatia see off an €80 million claim from Austrian casino operator Adria dating back to the Balkan wars of independence. An UNCITRAL panel rejected the claimant’s case on the merits in 2010, holding that its dispute with the state was entirely commercial in nature and had already been dealt with by the local courts.

Recent events

The firm said goodbye to associate Sameer Sattar, who returned to his native Bangladesh to set up a boutique arbitration practice.

Fietta reprised his counsel role for Croatia in 2012, successfully defending the Adria award (mentioned above) in set-aside proceedings in the Dutch courts (Hanotiau & van den Berg acted as co-counsel).

The firm also saw awards issued in two ICSID cases, but has remained tight-lipped about the outcomes. In Karmer v Georgia, the firm is rumoured to have obtained an award form the claimant worth several million dollars and is now trying to collect on it. The other case, Alapli v Turkey, also resulted in an award that is now the subject of annulment proceedings brought by Volterra Fietta's client, Alapli.

According to local press reports, the government of Colombia has also turned to the firm for advice following the International Court of Justice’s recent verdict in favour of Nicaragua in a dispute over territory in the Caribbean Sea. Having pulled out of the treaty acknowledging the court’s jurisdiction, Colombia has asked Volterra Fietta for help on its next move.

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