GAR 100 - 14th Edition

Steptoe & Johnson

Steptoe & Johnson

Professional notice

Advising the EU in a multibillion-euro dispute about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Pending cases as counsel12
Value of pending counsel workUS$13.4 billion
Treaty cases as counsel8
Third-party funded cases1
Current arbitrator appointments7 (4 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator2

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 that year for “international arbitration practice that impressed” 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 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 arbitrator in investor-state disputes.

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 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 has been 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 include the EU, China, Armenia, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and South Korea.

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. 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

Steptoe & Johnson is defending the EU in its first-ever Energy Charter Treaty case – lodged by the Gazprom-owned operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Christophe Bondy is the lead partner on the case, which has seen the claimant request the suspension of European competition regulation or billions of euros in compensation.

Bondy has also been tapped by US conglomerate Koch Industries to pursue a new NAFTA claim against Canada over the cancellation of an emissions trading programme.

In 2020, Matthew Coleman helped Italian-owned entity Sunlodges win US$22 million in a claim against Tanzania over the expropriation of cattle farming land. The state paid the award in the following year to avoid having three aircraft seized by the courts in Canada.

Chris Paparella obtained a $55 million victory for engineering company Subsea 7 against Mexico’s state-owned petroleum monopoly Pemex. The ICC case arose from delays and disruptions to a project to install two oil pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico.

Teddy Baldwin helped Moldova successfully appeal a US court’s decision to renew a default judgment granted 20 years ago to enforce an arbitral debt worth US$32 million. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals accepted that Moldova was not a party to the arbitration agreement and thus benefited from sovereign immunity.

London partner Neil Dooley has been representing two Russian state-owned banks in a lawsuit over an alleged US$800 million fraud, which has also been playing out in LCIA arbitration against Russian property tycoon Boris Mints’ O1 Group.

In 2021, the firm welcomed new partners Juliya Arbisman and Robby Mockler from Diamond McCarthy, where Arbisman had been head of international disputes. Both have a focus on natural resources and energy. Arbisman is based in London and Washington, DC, while Mockler divides his time between Los Angeles and New York.

Leigh Mallon also joined the London office as partner after 10 years with Fried Frank, where he was special counsel.

Client comment

Heinrich von Pezold, one of the claimants in the ICSID cases against Zimbabwe, says Matthew Coleman’s “grasp of the detail and ability to think through unintended consequences before they arise without losing the bigger picture have been crucial in this process”.

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, as well as 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.

Steptoe’s International Arbitration practice is an integral part of the firm’s global dispute resolution group, which brings together experience in advising on investment treaty arbitration, international commercial arbitration, public international law, international judgment/award enforcement, cross-border litigation, along with WTO and international trade disputes.

Steptoe’s clients include governments, financial institutions, international corporations, manufacturers, and service companies in a broad range of industries, including the construction, energy, telecommunications, and high-tech industries.

Steptoe’s lawyers have handled cases before all of the major international arbitration institutions and arbitration rules, and enforced significant arbitral awards and judgments for clients across the world.

Steptoe’s lawyers have experience serving as arbitrators and expert witnesses in international arbitrations, as well as developing and applying international law in senior governmental and institutional positions including bilateral and multilateral free trade negotiations on international investment chapters.

Website: www.steptoe.com

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