GAR 100 - 8th Edition

Berwin Leighton Paisner

Professional notice

The UK firm’s arbitration practice is under new leadership

People in Who’s Who Legal:1
Pending cases as counsel:55
Value of pending counsel work:US$7.4 billion
Treaty cases:3
Current arbitrator appointments:42 (of which 21 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator:4

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 with a construction disputes slant, led by Michael Polonsky in London. 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 increased the practice’s momentum and attracted new clients. Fletcher, now a QC, left the firm in 2014 to become an independent arbitrator.

The practice is now co-led by Richard Power in London and Kent Phillips in Singapore. Power has been with the firm for 14 years and also heads its energy disputes practice. Phillips, who joined in 2011 and helped to launch the Singapore practice, is a former partner at Addleshaw Goddard who worked on the famous Berezovsky v Abramovich litigation in the English High Court.

Stuart Isaacs QC joined the firm in 2011 as head of advocacy in London and Singapore. Isaacs further boosted the Asia practice by becoming the first QC authorised to practise as a foreign lawyer in Singapore. He also helps develop advocacy skills among the firm’s disputes lawyer and sits regularly as an arbitrator.

The firm also has expertise in Russia and CIS disputes. It operates in Russia under the name Goltsblat, with the practice led by Elena Trusova. The London office is also home to partner Roman Khodykin, a Russian national who joined in 2012 after seven years at Clifford Chance in Moscow.


Most of the arbitration specialists are based in the London office, with other members in Moscow, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The wider firm also has offices in Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hong Kong.

Who uses it?

Berwin has an excellent list of international clients, including Balfour Beatty, Canary Wharf, Chartis, Lloyds, National Grid, Qatari Diar, Tesco, Shell and UBS.

The arbitration team has handled several matters for project companies of AES, the US-based power company. That led to further instructions in energy-related disputes, including defending the state of Lagos in Nigeria when it faced a claim by Enron.

In 2012, 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.

Track record

In 2012, the firm successfully took on the government of Gabon – not only securing a win for Nedbank, but also helping to enforce a £25 million LCIA award in favour of a South African construction company that was 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.

A team in Moscow also 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.

In a London-seated LCIA arbitration, 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.

Recent events

There were two notable departures in 2014: practice head Nic Fletcher and partner Amir Ghaffari, both based in London. Fletcher, who earlier in the year became one of the few solicitor QCs in the UK, left the firm to practise as an independent arbitrator at barristers’ chambers 4 New Square. He retains his connection with the firm as a non-executive director on its board. Ghaffari, who had been a partner since 2012, left for Vinson & Elkins.

David Robertson, a construction disputes specialist who joined the firm in 2013 from Fenwick Elliott, relocated from London to the Singapore office in August 2014. He has been acting for major Korean contractors involved in projects in Asia and the Middle East.

Partners Roman Khodykin in London and Elena Trusova in Moscow were selected to provide reserve pro bono counsel to athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Berwin Leighton Paisner continued its tradition of publishing an annual arbitration survey, this time on the choice of seat in arbitration. The survey found that users’ personal connection to an arbitration venue was more important than strictly legal factors such as whether a jurisdiction was signed up to the New York Convention. The survey also predicted that South East Asian seats will be increasingly chosen by users in the years to come.

Client comment

The firm’s co-counsel in a construction case, Pedro Lessa of Le Pera and Lessa Abogados, says BLP was initially retained to provide advice on English law aspects of a construction dispute with two eastern European state entities in London.

“The high quality of their contribution and the excellent working relationship that they established with us led to them acquiring a much larger role,” he says – to the point that BLP has now borne the main burden of defending the clients in much-postponed hearings. Even when one claimant replaced Le Pera and Lessa with its own counsel, it kept BLP in place.

Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP is a full service law firm with over 880 lawyers, including more than 200 lawyers specialising in litigation and arbitration. We have offices in London, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, 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.

Key contact:

Kent Phillips

Partner, Head of International Arbitration

Email: [email protected]



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