The London firm has scored some wins against Gabon and set its sights on Singapore
Berwin Leighton Paisner was formed from the merger of Berwin Leighton with Paisner & Co in 2001, and within five years came to be regarded as one of the London market’s success stories. It doubled its turnover during that period and became famous for its strength in the commercial real estate sector.
The merged firm established an international arbitration practice led by Michael Polonsky with a construction disputes slant. Initially, the team was supplemented by members of the firm’s construction group and later by members of a Russian firm that was absorbed in 2009.
That year, the firm also laterally recruited Nic Fletcher from Clifford Chance, who had worked under John Beechey (now chair of the ICC International Court of Arbitration). His arrival has increased the practice’s momentum and attracted new clients.
Among his other credentials, Fletcher is a member of the ICC’s standing task force on the New York Convention and a member of the executive committee of the Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy.
The practice has also added lawyers at the younger level. Among them is Amir Ghaffari, who joined from Emmanuel Gaillard’s team at Shearman & Sterling in Paris and is co-chair of the LCIA’s Young International Arbitration Group.
The firm hired Kent Phillips, a former partner at Addleshaw Goddard, in late 2011 – who joined fresh from the Abramovich/Berezkovsky litigation in the English High Court. Phillips, who was an India jurisdiction partner at Addleshaw Goddard, has since launched the firm’s arbitration practice in Singapore.
Soon afterwards, Stuart Isaacs QC joined the firm as head of advocacy from South Square Chambers in London. Isaacs has further boosted the Asia practice as the first QC to be authorised by the Singapore attorney general to practise as a foreign lawyer in the city state. He also helps develop advocacy skills among the firm’s disputes lawyer and sits regularly as an arbitrator.
The international arbitration practice is headed by Fletcher from the London office, where most of the arbitration specialists are based. There is also a team in Moscow (operating under the banner of Goltsblat BLP), led by Elena Trusova; and in Abu Dhabi, led by Caroline Pope. A new Singapore practice is led by Kent Phillips. BLP has had an office there since 2007 with a focus on natural resources.
The firm has recently opened offices in Hong Kong and Germany. It also has an office in Paris.
Who uses it?
The firm has an excellent list of international clients, including Balfour Beatty, Canary Wharf, Chartis, Lloyds, National Grid, Qatari Diar, Tesco, Shell and UBS. Since Fletcher’s arrival, the arbitration team has handled several matters for project companies of AES, the US-based power company. That led to further instructions in the energy-related disputes, including from the state of Lagos in Nigeria when it faced a claim by Enron Nigeria.
Recently, the team secured a big win for South African financial institution Nedbank against the government of Gabon. It has also received a number of instructions from Scottish Power, the UK subsidiary of Spanish oil and gas company Iberdrola, including in a £20 million price adjustment dispute over a natural gas supply contract.
KBR and Italy’s Snamprogetti have instructed the group on international engineering disputes under English and other governing laws; and the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has retained it to advise on developing claims arising out of the collapse of a major Caribbean insurer.
Other clients include the Trinidad Water Authority, Qatar Electricity and Water Company, Vinchi subsidiary Soletanche Bachy, Hellenic Petroleum and a London rail link.
It is still reasonably early days for the new and improved BLP arbitration group – but it has already distinguished itself with good results.
In a London-seated LCIA arbitration, for example, partner Michael Polonsky persuaded Hilary Heilbron QC, sitting as sole arbitrator, to end a dispute between joint venture partners in a gold mine operation in Kyrgyzstan because of lack of jurisdiction. The claim was for more than US$16 million and the outcome crucial to the client’s survival.
Meanwhile, Fletcher successfully represented BNP Paribas in a dispute with a US multinational over breaches of warranty arising from the sale of a European vehicle leasing business. The claim was for US$400 million and involved 65 separate accounting claims, as well as allegations of fraud. The firm reports that it resulted in an almost unprecedented six-week hearing.
In May 2012, Roman Khodykin joined the firm’s London office as partner from Clifford Chance in Moscow – increasing its ability to handle London-based disputes relating to Russia and the CIS. The firm has also hired a new head of forensic accounting, Paul Bennett.
Meanwhile, Amir Ghaffari was promoted to the partnership
The firm’s latest arbitration survey focused on delay, suggesting that many practitioners believe arbitrators are taking longer to produce awards than five years ago and should be penalised. It is the second edition of the survey – the last edition looked at perceptions surrounding the use of barristers in international arbitration.
Since the last edition, the firm has reached a favourable settlement for the Danish Polish Telecommunications Group, which was seeking to enforce a US$380 million Austrian arbitration award against Polish Telecoms.
It has also successfully taken on the government of Gabon – not only securing a win for Nedbank, but also helping to enforce a £25 million LCIA arbitration award that was issued in favour of a South African construction company and assigned to BLP’s Mauritian client. The proceedings involved grappling with state immunity issues as well as the legitimacy of the assignment. Full payment has been secured.
In Moscow, a team successfully represented ING bank in a three-year MKAS claim to recover US$35 million against a Forbes List-featured Russian oligarch – and also secured interest of US$860,000.
Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP is a full service law firm with over 840 lawyers, including more than 135 lawyers specialising in litigation and arbitration. We have offices in London, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, Hong Kong, Moscow, Paris and Singapore.
Our International Arbitration team boasts recognised specialists who routinely advise multi-national corporations, private individuals and governments in the conduct of their disputes. We have considerable experience not just in the conduct of international arbitrations (across numerous sectors, geographies and jurisdictions) but we also take pride in giving specialist advice on the full range of important legal and tactical issues that arise before, during and after the proceedings.
We have considerable experience in handling large international arbitrations involving parties from jurisdictions all over the world, conducted under a variety of institutional and ad hoc rules. In recent years our lawyers have handled disputes under the International Centre for Settlement and Investment Disputes (ICSID), the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague (PCA), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and the American Arbitration Association (AAA). We have conducted arbitrations in many different jurisdictions including London, Geneva, Paris, Stockholm, Moscow and Eastern Europe, Dubai, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul and the Americas (including various US States). We have specialists in arbitration law/procedure, in conflict of laws and jurisdictional issues.
Partner, Head of International Arbitration
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