The firm has said it will cease acting for Russian and Belarusian state clients, though at the time of writing it continues to appear in the Yukos dispute
|People in Who’s Who Legal||24|
|People in Future Leaders||22|
|Pending cases as counsel||294|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$218 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||51|
|Third-party funded cases||10+|
|Current arbitrator appointments||41 (25 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||21|
White & Case has regularly appeared around the top of the GAR 30 since the first edition. The firm has big names, lots of offices and a history as a pioneer in this area. So how did it get to this enviable position?
It was one of the first US law firms to do extensive work overseas. During the First World War, it handled all the legal work for the supply of munitions to Britain and France (the French government made founding partner Justin DuPratt White a Knight of the Legion of Honour in gratitude). Today’s international arbitration practice grew from those origins. As a result of its early foreign work, international disputes began to arrive on its doorstep. In the 1950s, it worked on the famous Saudi Arabia v Aramco dispute (the team included a young associate named Stephen Schwebel, a future arbitrator and president of the International Court of Justice).
In the 1970s, things kicked off after Charles Brower – today a renowned arbitrator – founded an office in Washington, DC, leading to early ICSID work. The firm has now worked on more than 100 such cases. Indeed, the practice has proved a particular pioneer in investor-state work. Its credits include the first ICSID case against a Latin American state (Santa Elena v Costa Rica), defending the first Energy Charter Treaty case (AES v Hungary) and the first ECT case to reach a merits award (Plama v Bulgaria), and bringing one of the earliest NAFTA cases (Mondev v United States).
The practice now has 200 lawyers working around the globe, including in many spots where you won’t find rivals.
There are some niche areas associated with particular offices. In Paris and London, there’s a heavy focus on project and construction work. Christopher Seppälä in Paris is long-standing legal adviser to the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), and Phillip Capper in London is also well known in construction.
Meanwhile, in Mexico City and Washington, DC, areas of special interest are investor-state work and Latin America-related matters. Jonathan Hamilton, a partner in DC, heads the Latin American arbitration practice and edits a website on arbitration law in the region.
The Paris office now spends a lot of time on energy work thanks to Michael Polkinghorne, and London (aided by other offices) built a name in Russia-related work thanks to David Goldberg. The London office also has an investment treaty practice thanks to Goldberg and former US State Department lawyer Andrea Menaker, who relocated there from DC.
It’s also worth noting that, of the top practices, White & Case is one of the least male dominated. In addition to Menaker, senior female partners include Abby Cohen Smutny (global head of international arbitration), Carolyn Lamm (a past president of the American Bar Association), Ank Santens and Anne Véronique Schlaepfer.
Of the firm’s 45 offices, 22 are home to international arbitration names. As well as the usual centres – London, Paris, New York, Stockholm, Geneva, Hong Kong, Singapore and Washington, DC – the list includes Mexico City, Miami, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Warsaw, Prague, Doha, Dubai, Muscat, Riyadh, Seoul, Tashkent and Sydney.
The firm announced the closure of its Moscow office in March 2022.
Who uses it?
Government clients include Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Nigeria and Uzbekistan. It’s also advised the State of New York in an arbitration with the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Until recently, Russia and Belarus were also regular clients. The firm announced in March 2022 that it is “ceasing all representations of Russian and Belarusian state and state-owned entities in accordance with our professional responsibilities” and would not accept new mandates from such entities.
On the corporate side, it’s done work for Alstom, Eni, Hochtief, Hutchison Port Holdings, Jindal Steel & Power, Gabriel Resources, Israel Chemicals, PKN Orlen and Toshiba, among many others.
It’s also done work for a company owned by Rinat Akhmetov (one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs) and Orascom TMT, which is owned by the family of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.
The practice is popular in the field of construction. Finnish utility TVO used it for a multibillion-dollar dispute over a nuclear power plant, and it’s advising a consortium including Spain’s Sacyr and Italy’s Webuild on disputes arising from a multibillion-dollar contract to build a third set of locks on the Panama Canal.
As some of its “greatest hits”, mentioned above, would indicate, White & Case has a reputation around the market as a fearsome and creative opponent. Looking at the recent past, other big White & Case wins include:
- securing the dismissal of a US$14.5 billion treaty claim brought against Russia by fugitive banker Sergei Pugachev;
- helping Finnish utility TVO to settle a €6 billion ICC case against Areva and Siemens over a nuclear power plant, with the client receiving a €450 million indemnity;
- establishing jurisdiction for tens of thousands of Italian bondholders to bring a collective ICSID claim against Argentina (the Abaclat case), eventually securing them a US$1.35 billion settlement;
- a US$740 million ICSID win for Canadian mining company Gold Reserve against Venezuela;
- a US$650 million ICC award for Portugal’s PT Ventures against fellow shareholders in an Angolan mobile operator;
- winning US$550 million against the Republic of the Congo (and defending the award against corruption allegations in the French courts);
- obtaining a US$295 million payout for Siemens and its South Korean partner to end a decade-long ICC dispute with Mexico’s Pemex over a refinery upgrade;
- a series of great results for Uzbekistan, including the first dismissal of a treaty claim at ICSID because of corruption (Metal-Tech), getting a US$132 million claim over cotton subsidies thrown out on jurisdiction (Spentex) and defeating the bulk of a US$1.3 billion claim by a mining company (Oxus Gold); and
- helping Peru defeat an US$800 million treaty claim by the US’s Renco Group relating to liability for environmental pollution in the Andes.
The firm helped Saudi Arabia win its first ICSID case. The US$570 million claim brought by a French fashion and restaurant chain was thrown out on jurisdiction.
In the Spanish courts, the firm helped Russia see off Sergei Pugachev’s attempt to revive his US$14.5 billion treaty claim.
The firm has been advising Russia in its fight to overturn the US$57 billion awards won by the former majority shareholders of Yukos Oil Company. In late 2021, the Dutch Supreme Court rejected most of Russia’s grounds of appeal while remanding the case to a lower court to review certain fraud allegations. A US court lifted a stay of enforcement proceedings in early 2022.
For Korean private equity client Global Payment Server and its parent UTC Investment, the firm secured a US$27 million SIAC award against a Vietnamese media group. The dispute concerned the purchase of interest in an electronic payments business that was implicated in an illegal online gambling ring.
White & Case’s client Eni reached an agreement to revise a long-term supply contract with Russia’s Gazprom Export, settling disputes that had gone to arbitration in Stockholm.
It advised Qatargas in another gas price review case against Edison, in which claims by each side worth several hundred million euros were dismissed by an ICC panel in London.
The firm settled two ICC cases for Japanese oil and gas client Inpex relating to the US$45 billion Ichthys LNG project off the Australian coast – one was against Japanese–US contractor JKC and the other was against South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries.
It continues to represent investors in numerous claims at ICSID, including Japan’s Mitsui & Co. in a renewables claim against Spain, a Colombian energy distributor in a pair of cases against Guatemala, a real estate investor in a €300 million dispute with Serbia and Webuild in a US$2.2 billion claim against Panama over the canal expansion.
The firm has also been instructed in a “landmark” HKIAC claim that a group of traders are preparing against cryptocurrency exchange Binance for losses they incurred when its platform crashed.
A team in London and Brussels have been advising Swedish businessman Ioan Micula and his companies in efforts to enforce a €178 million ICSID award against Romania. In early 2022, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the European Commission did not exceed its competence in declaring that payment of the award would amount to illegal state aid.
South Korea continues to use the firm in a pair of cases brought by US private equity fund Mason Capital and an elevator maker, respectively.
White & Case bulked up its Melbourne office with the hire of Lee Carroll, who has expertise in construction matters, as partner from Australian firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.
The firm promoted new partners Aditya Singh in Singapore, Alexandra Diehl in Frankfurt, Samy Markbaoui in Paris, and Laetitia Souesme and Stephanie Stocker in London. David Riesenberg in Washington, DC and Marièle Coulet-Diaz in Mexico City were promoted to counsel, and Aimy Roshan in Dubai and Federico Parise Kuhnle in Frankfurt were made local partner.
Islambek Rustambekov of the Uzbek Ministry of Justice says White & Case is “highly qualified, very knowledgeable and well versed in both international investment and commercial arbitration,” adding that what impresses most is an “ability to find practical solutions for the client and efficiency”.
Rustambekov says Lamm is “certainly the best arbitration lawyer whom I have ever seen, and she is also a very clever politician”.
Another state client says the White & Case team it has worked with, including partner John Willems in Paris, is “very competent and organised”.
Leading corporations, financial institutions, investors and sovereign states have been turning to White & Case for more than 75 years to represent them in high stakes disputes in international arbitrations. And for good reason. We were pioneers in the field and achieved many "firsts" on behalf of our clients along the way. Our practice is recognized as preeminent, and we count among our partners 44 of the highest ranked international arbitration practitioners in the world. The depth of our experience and expertise is second to none. Our dedicated International Arbitration team provides trusted counsel and vigorous representation in protecting and vindicating our clients' interests in commercial and investor-State arbitrations worldwide.We have expertise in numerous industries and specialized sectors including financial services, energy, power, mining & metals, pharmaceuticals & healthcare, technology, telecommunications, transportation, construction, retail and manufacturing. We work around the world, in multiple jurisdictions and in multiple languages.