GAR 100 - 13th Edition

Steptoe & Johnson

Professional notice

Has strengthened its investor-state team with some significant hires and is now instructed on a US$350 million ICSID claim against Colombia

Pending cases as counsel11
Value of pending counsel workUS$1.5 billion+
Treaty cases8
Third-party funded cases1
Current arbitrator appointments4 (3 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator1

US-based Steptoe & Johnson has worked on arbitrations for a number of years, but 2016 marked a turning point after it achieved outstanding results in a pair of ICSID cases against Zimbabwe. The firm picked up a GAR Award in that year in the “international arbitration practice that impressed” category, and featured for the first time in the GAR 100 in 2017.

The modern arbitration practice took root when Steven Davidson in Washington, DC helped Motorola launch multiple claims against Turkish businessman Cem Uzan, his family and companies. That dispute led to successful enforcement proceedings and the second ICSID claim ever filed against Turkey, which the firm settled in the mid-2000s.

The firm went on to hire Lucinda Low in Washington, DC, who acted in some early NAFTA cases and was among the first US lawyers to argue a case before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal. In addition to her work as arbitration counsel and head of the firm’s compliance, investigations, trade and enforcement practice, Low is increasingly visible these days as an investment arbitrator.

In 2007, the firm recruited partner Matthew Coleman in London, who now heads the investment treaty arbitration practice. Coleman brought with him three cases against Zimbabwe, including one that featured the largest ever number of claimants in a single ICSID case at that time.

The practice received a further boost in 2019 with the hire of Teddy Baldwin from Baker McKenzie, who brings a busy portfolio of investor-state work. Commercial disputes specialist Chris Paparella joined the firm's New York office as partner, arriving from Hughes Hubbard & Reed.

Another big hire came in February 2020 as the firm recruited Christophe Bondy – who previously led the Canadian government’s defence in NAFTA investor-state cases – from Cooley in London.

Other names to know in DC include Mark Moran, who has experience in international trade disputes before the WTO; and Brian Egan, a former legal adviser to the US Secretary of State who joined the firm in 2017.  

Network

London and DC are the main offices for arbitration, with other practitioners in New York and Beijing.

Who uses it?

Steptoe & Johnson’s private clients include ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, Cigna Insurance, Canada’s Northern Dynasty Minerals, Motorola, British satellite company Inmarsat Global and South Korean consumer electronics group LG.

The firm is representing investors in claims against Montenegro, Tanzania and Venezuela, having previously acted in claims against Turkey and Jordan.

It helped Canada defeat two NAFTA claims in the mid-2000s. Other government clients are Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and South Korea. The firm has also been helping China to negotiate an investment treaty with the EU.

Track record

Steptoe & Johnson’s most impressive results to date have been for the von Pezolds, a Swiss-German family of farmers, in a pair of ICSID claims against Zimbabwe concerning the controversial land reform programme of former president Robert Mugabe. The firm won a pair of awards in 2015 requiring the state to return land it had expropriated or pay US$195 million in compensation. An ICSID annulment committee upheld the awards in November 2018. It was one of the first ICSID matters to consider discrimination on the basis of race, and one of the few where restitution was ordered as a remedy.

It also acted for African regional bank Ecobank in a dispute with its disgraced former CEO Thierry Tanoh that played out in an UNCITRAL arbitration, as well as litigation in Togo (where Ecobank is based), Ivory Coast and the UK. The dispute settled in 2016.

It defended South Korea’s LG from a US$500 million claim brought by Microsoft at the Finland Arbitration Institute. The firm says the case was successfully resolved on confidential terms.

Recent events

In 2019, Steptoe helped British satellite company Inmarsat Global settle a dispute with Houston-based technology company RigNet, under which the firm’s client received a payment of US$51 million.

A big instruction came from US tech company Neustar for a US$350 million ICSID claim against Colombia over its rights to manage the “.CO” domain name. Partner Teddy Baldwin is leading the team on that case.

The firm represented Medusa, a subsidiary of Scotland’s Sea Energy, in a US$100 million UNCITRAL claim against Montenegro concerning an oil and gas concession in the Adriatic Sea. In 2019, a divided tribunal declined jurisdiction over the claim, which had been brought under a treaty signed by the former Yugoslavia.

Other pending cases include representing real estate investors in their bid to set aside an UNCITRAL award in favour of the Dominican Republic in the US courts; an investment treaty claim against Tanzania over a large agricultural estate; and an LCIA dispute over the recovery of US$500 million worth of loans.

Client comment

Heinrich von Pezold, one of the claimants in the ICSID cases against Zimbabwe, says the commitment of partner Matthew Coleman has been “exemplary” and that he has provided excellent legal advice throughout the dispute.

One client who used Steptoe & Johnson in an arbitration concerning the contamination of an oil product on-board a vessel says the firm is “very experienced in commodities and shipping” and “responsive and commercial.”

Steve Remp, chairman of Seawind Capital, singled out Steven Davidson in DC. “He’s a real international statesman, and has pleaded and won some very big investor-state cases,” Remp says.

In more than 100 years of practice, Steptoe has earned an international reputation for vigorous representation of clients before governmental agencies, successful advocacy in litigation and arbitration, and creative and practical advice in structuring business transactions. Steptoe has more than 500 lawyers and other professional staff across offices in Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Our worldwide Arbitration & Dispute Resolution Practice brings together the firm's established practices in public international law, cross-border litigation, international commercial arbitration, investor-state disputes and WTO disputes. Effectively resolving international disputes in the interest of our clients has been a hallmark of Steptoe's arbitration practice for over decades.

Our historical connections to this practice are deep, and continue today. In the 1970s the firm represented several major oil companies in the arbitration of expropriation claims against the Libyan government; and in the early 1980s the firm represented a broad range of US companies in investment claims against the Iranian government before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague. Steptoe has continued this practice in recent years with prominent representations in investor-state arbitration, international commercial arbitration, and state-to-state arbitration.

Our partners have also served as chairs and party-appointed arbitrators, putting them among an elite group of lawyers with deep insight into the arbitral decision-making process. This includes Lucinda Low, who was appointed by President Obama to the Panel of Conciliators, ICSID.

Over decades we have played significant roles in the development and application of public international law. In particular, many Steptoe lawyers have had extensive experience developing and applying international law in senior governmental and institutional positions. In the US, this includes senior positions at the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency; indeed, two Steptoe partners have served as Legal Adviser to the State Department. Monroe Leigh, a former Steptoe partner, served as State Department Legal Adviser to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and played a leading role in the drafting and enactment of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Brian Egan recently served as Legal Advisor at the Department of State in the Obama administration.

Additionally, Steptoe has played a role in the development of public international law through its role as counsel to the Rule of Law Committee, which we have held since 1962. The Committee comprises a group of senior legal representatives of large US multinational corporations with a common interest in monitoring and shaping the development of important issues in public international law.

We have extensive experience handling international commercial arbitrations in a broad range of industries, particularly the construction, energy, telecommunications, and high-tech industries. Clients range from governments and financial institutions to manufacturers and telecommunications firms and more. Steptoe’s lawyers have handled cases before all of the major world’s tribunals, established under the rules of all of the major international arbitration institutions.

Steptoe has been involved in a significant number of state-to-state disputes. We have also acted in disputes involving intergovernmental organizations that were governed by public international law.

Steptoe has advised WTO Members and private sector interests in more than 50 different WTO dispute settlement proceedings. We represented and advised clients at every stage of dispute settlement, and is among the few law firms in the world that regularly appear on behalf of WTO Members in both panel and Appellate Body proceedings. We work with our clients to develop case strategies, participate in the consultations process, prepare written submissions, and present arguments before panels and the Appellate Body.

Steptoe has litigated a wide array of issues relating to the interpretation and application of the WTO Agreements. The WTO disputes in which Steptoe has been involved include disputes relating to trade remedies, trade in goods, trade in services, intellectual property rights, and technical barriers to trade, among others. Many of these disputes have resulted in landmark panel and Appellate Body reports interpreting key provisions of the WTO Agreements.

Steptoe has represented clients in arbitrations held in: London, Paris, The Hague, New York, Washington, Geneva, Vienna, Zürich, Stockholm, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Moscow, and Cairo. Our lawyers have conducted arbitrations, in whole or in part, in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese, and are capable of handling arbitrations in a number of other languages.

Representative cases:

  • Lead counsel to nine investors in respect of an investment dispute with The Republic of Zimbabwe arising from breaches of a bilateral investment treaty. Clients awarded restitution and damages (alternatively $196 million in damages), plus their full legal costs and interest. During the annulment phase, we successfully resisted Zimbabwe's applications for a stay of enforcement and to have the award annulled. Bernhard von Pezold & Ors v The Republic of Zimbabwe. ICSID arbitration. ICSID Case No. ARB/10/15.
  • Lead counsel to investors in respect of an investment dispute with The Republic of Zimbabwe arising from breaches of a bilateral investment treaty. Clients awarded restitution and damages (alternatively $125 million in damages), plus their full legal costs and interest. During the annulment phase, we successfully resisted Zimbabwe's applications for a stay of enforcement and to have the award annulled. Border Timbers Ltd & Ors v The Republic of Zimbabwe. ICSID arbitration. ICSID Case No. ARB/10/25.
  • Lead counsel to an Italian investor in respect of an investment dispute with an East African State arising from alleged breaches of a bilateral investment treaty. Concerns investment in an agriculture project. Sunlodges Ltd and Sunlodges (T) Limited v The United Republic of Tanzania. UNCITRAL arbitration, ongoing. PCA Case No. 2018-9.
  • Chaired a three-member tribunal in a SIAC, multi-party arbitration involving parties based in Singapore, Indonesia and the British Virgin Islands. Claims in excess of US$30 million for payments alleged to be due and owing under convertible loan notes and guarantees.
  • Defended a South Asian Government and its national oil company against US$120 million in multiparty claims in an LCIA arbitration arising from sponsorship, construction, and operation of a 1300 MW power project.
  • Represented a Caribbean state and its national electricity corporation in the defence of US$775 million in claims by an investor concerning power generation facilities, at the International Chamber of Commerce arbitration in Mexico.
  • Represented a major telecommunications provider in a £375 million product liability dispute under a GSM frame contract involving alleged defects in one of Europe’s largest GSM/GPRS networks.
  • Represented the Canadian softwood lumber industry in all aspects of the WTO litigation over the past 20 years relating to trade in softwood lumber between Canada and the United States.
  • China – Electronic Payment Services (DS413). Represented the Government of China in the first dispute arising under the General Agreement on Trade in Services relating to trade in financial services.
  • United States – “Zeroing” of Dumping Margins (DS294). Represented a major European steel producer, working closely with the European Communities in the successful appeal of this dispute to the Appellate Body.
  • Argentina – Measures Relating to Trade in Goods and Services (DS453). Represented the Argentinian government in a case that upheld Argentina’s use of defensive tax measures against countries that do not adhere to international standards of tax transparency.
  • Representing the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (comprising 17 member states) in the advisory proceedings before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Case No. 21 (Request for an advisory opinion submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission).
  • Represented the US Government in more than 130 arbitrations with the Government of Iran, totaling more than $30 billion in claims, before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal.
  • Represented the United States government in the Nicaragua vs. United States case before the ICJ.
  • Represented the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN specialized agency, in the Global Mechanism case before the ICJ.
  • Succeeded in attaching and releasing to Steptoe’s client ExxonMobil US$305 million in assets of the Republic of Venezuela and Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA to satisfy arbitration awards.
  • Represented the Republic of Kazakhstan in a contract dispute brought by a US-based entity that involved sovereign immunity issues under the FSIA.

 

For more information, visit www.steptoe.com

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