GAR 100 - 14th Edition

Dentons

Dentons

Professional notice

Advising the Maduro government in Venezuela in its challenge to a US$9 billion ICSID award

People in Who’s Who Legal5
People in Future Leaders6
Pending cases as counsel150
Value of pending counsel workUS$24 billion
Treaty cases as counsel10
Current arbitrator appointments31 (23 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator10

One of the world’s largest law firms, Dentons is the product of a 2013 merger between UK-US firm SNR Denton, Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain and Paris-based Salans. It merged with Dacheng Law Offices in mainland China in 2015, and agreed tie-ups with Rodyk & Davidson in Singapore and Australian firm Gadens a year later.

Of the different merger partners, Salans and Rodyk & Davidson enjoyed the strongest reputation in international arbitration, both having featured in the GAR 100 for several years. However, other merger partners bring some experience in this field, partly thanks to their transactional work for clients in oil and gas and financial services.

Salans was founded in Paris in 1978 by US and French lawyers and gained a name in the late 1980s for its trade work across the Iron Curtain. The firm handled some of the earliest disputes arising from Western investment in the Russia and CIS region, and East–West trade has continued to account for around half of its arbitration caseload, with much of the rest coming from Greater China, Africa and North America.

The firm’s global international arbitration group is led from Paris by Jean-Christophe Honlet, with Barton Legum heading up the busy investment treaty arbitration group from the same office. Legum joined in 2009 from Debevoise & Plimpton having formerly headed the US Department of State’s NAFTA claims division.

Legacy firm SNR Denton developed its arbitration practice as an offshoot of its energy work. It has since branched out into inter­national trade and finance. Partner Liz Tout headed the legacy London practice for over a decade and now heads Dentons’ international arbitration practice in the UK.

The tie-up with Rodyk & Davidson brought in an impressive team in Singapore, headed by Philip Jeyaretnam SC, who was recently appointed a judicial commissioner of Singapore’s Supreme Court. Rodyk’s team includes maritime specialist Lawrence Teh, who co-chairs the IBA’s Asia-Pacific arbitration group and the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum.

Network

Denton’s presence arguably covers more of the globe than any other firm, with 177 locations in 79 countries. Its international arbitration group is mainly found in Paris, London, Calgary, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and New York.

Salans also contributed boots on the ground in Almaty, Bucharest, Prague, St Petersburg, Warsaw and Washington, DC, while SNR Denton brought offices in Dubai, Muscat, Qatar and Hong Kong. Fraser Milner Casgrain contributed members of the group in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Dacheng has added arbitration practitioners in Beijing.

Dentons entered Latin America for the first time in 2016 through tie-ups with Colombian and Mexican firms. The firm also has offices in Cairo and Casablanca, and associate offices or alliance firms throughout Africa, which may explain its large amount of Africa-related gas price review work.

Who uses it?

Dentons’ investment arbitration clients on the claimant side have included Canadian drugmaker Apotex, ExxonMobil, Murphy Oil, Canada’s Niko Resources, Viorel Micula, Silver Ridge Power and Sudanese state oil company Sudapet (in a claim against South Sudan).

It has also won instructions from states including Australia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Papua New Guinea and state-owned entities such as Russia’s Gazprom, Turkey’s Botaş and Venezuela’s PDVSA. The Indian government has used the firm for set-aside proceedings in London.

On the commercial side, it has acted for Engie, Total, Deutsche Bank, E Energija, Bouygues, Misen Energy, Nakheel, Omantel and Starwood Hotels.

Rodyk & Davidson’s clients include Indonesian state gas trans­mission company PT Perusahaan Gas Negara.

Track record

It had some high-profile successes for Gazprom in a long-running gas dispute with Lithuania. In 2016, it persuaded an SCC tribunal to throw out a US$1.9 billion claim by the Lithuanian energy ministry that alleged Gazprom had unfairly raised its prices. The Swedish Supreme Court upheld the award in 2020.

In an earlier iteration of the dispute, Dentons obtained an injunction from another SCC tribunal that restrained the ministry from litigating its claims in the Lithuanian courts. That part of the dispute went all the way up to the European Court of Justice, which affirmed in 2015 that anti-suit injunctions issued by arbitrators do not violate EU law. (The ECJ decision earned a GAR Award for most important arbitration decision of that year.)

Dentons helped Papua New Guinea obtain a permanent stay of a US$3 billion SIAC-administered arbitration commenced by a US-owned timber company.

It has a fine track record in investment treaty cases too. In 2017, it helped China secure the early dismissal of a claim filed by a South Korean investor in a golf course – only the second case China has ever faced at ICSID.

Dentons played a behind-the-scenes role advising Australia in a multibillion-dollar treaty claim brought by Philip Morris over legislation mandating plain packaging of cigarettes. The case was thrown out as abusive in 2015.

It helped Libya defeat a US$95 million investment treaty claim by a Turkish joint venture over a water pipeline project. It is defending a state authority in a related contractual arbitration.

The Paris office secured an ICC award against the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2015 that is now thought to be worth over US$250 million including interest. The team also helped confirm the award in the French courts.

The firm secured the first set-aside of an investor-state award by an English court, persuading a judge that a tribunal had interpreted a treaty too narrowly when it declined jurisdiction over certain claims by private equity group Griffin against Poland.

In 2009, Salans helped Vivendi claw back lost ground in a battle over ownership rights in a Polish telecoms firm, winning a €1.9 billion award in an LCIA arbitration, followed by settlement in 2011, which saw Vivendi collect over €1 billion.

Recent events

A team led by Bart Legum and Anna Crevon represented Sweden’s Misen Energy in an SCC case against a Ukrainian state-owned gas producer, which was settled with a payment of US$50 million to the client in 2021. The team is now acting for Misen in a related ICSID claim against Ukraine concerning a hike in gas royalties.

The London office is acting for football club Newcastle United in an arbitration against the English Premier League over an aborted £340 million takeover of the football club by a Saudi-backed consortium.

Partner John Hay in New York is leading a team acting for Canada’s Gran Colombia Gold in a US$250 million ICSID claim against Colombia. The state’s preliminary objections to the claim were dismissed in late 2020.

Dentons in Singapore represented Russian state-owned bank VTB in a US$170 million dispute with petroleum trader AnAn Group. The case led to an important Singapore Court of Appeal ruling in 2020 on the standard of review that applies when deciding whether to stay a winding-up petition because of an arbitration clause.

The firm’s Mauritius office is helping German renewables company Frazer Solar in efforts to enforce a €50 million award against Lesotho in the Mauritian Supreme Court.

The Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro has been using the firm’s Paris and Prague offices as it seeks to annul a US$9 billion ICSID award in favour of ConocoPhillips.

Legum has been sitting on an UNCITRAL panel hearing a claim by Rift Valley Railways against Uganda over a terminated concession agreement for a rail network linking Uganda and Kenya.

Jean-Christophe Honlet in Paris provided expert evidence for Kuwait’s Kout Food Group in a dispute with Lebanon’s Kebab-ji that has gone all the way up to the UK Supreme Court. It concerns whether the parties’ choice of English law to govern their contract was also an express choice of the law governing the arbitration agreement, even though the clause specified Paris as the arbitral seat.

Honlet is representing Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto in an ICC arbitration against Indian billionaire Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House over the US$500 million sale of Europe’s largest aluminium smelter.

Dusseldorf-based Thomas Nebel joined the firm from Herbert Smith Freehills as a partner in 2020.

A trio of partners – Meriam Al-Rashid in New York, and William O’Brien and John Lomas in Washington, DC – left in 2020 for Eversheds Sutherland. Dentons’ head of arbitration in Germany, Amy Kläsener, left the Frankfurt office in May 2021 to join Jones Day.

Client comment

Brian Adolph, vice president of Canada’s Niko Resources, says the firm does an “excellent job”. Bart Legum “has exceptional knowledge, experience and skill” in conducting ICSID cases, while Gordon Tarnowsky QC and Anthony Cole in Calgary have been “key” in providing industry knowledge and experience of cases involving corruption allegations.

Kanayo Ifemenam, head counsel for commercial & shipping services at Nigeria LNG, said the firm showed a ”high level of expertise, professionalism, competence and initiative”, particularly given the difficulty of carrying out virtual arbitrations for the first

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