Von Wobeser y Sierra SC
A strong pick for energy and construction disputes in Mexico
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Von Wobeser y Sierra’s international arbitration practice is one of the go-to choices in Mexico – owing in part to firm founder Claus von Wobeser’s international profile as an arbitrator.
On top of multiple Bar Association roles, von Wobeser is a former vice president of the ICC Court and, since 2020, president of the Latin American Arbitration Association. He is regularly seen as arbitrator on big-ticket commercial and investor-state disputes.
Marco Tulio Venegas Cruz co-led the arbitration and litigation practice until he left the firm in 2019. Von Wobeser now co-chairs the practice with Adrián Magallanes, who has been at the firm for two decades.
Partners Fernando Moreno, Diego Sierra, Montserrat Manzano, Raymundo Soberanis, Pablo Fautsch and Jessika Rocha are other names to know, as is of counsel Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia, former president of the Mexican Supreme Court.
Margarita Beatriz Luna Ramos, another former Supreme Court justice, joined the firm in 2020 as of counsel.
Who uses it?
Around 70% of its clients are from the US, Germany and Asia (especially Japan). Foreign companies often retain the firm as counsel or Mexican law experts in major disputes involving Mexico’s national oil company Pemex, electricity utility CFE and other state entities.
It has advised ICA, KBR, BMW, Siemens, Mitsui Group, Mitsubishi and the Coca-Cola Company. British American Tobacco instructed the firm for a US$300 million dispute with a Japanese joint venture partner. Anheuser-Busch InBev used it in a substantial case brought by Mexico’s Grupo Modelo.
The firm secured a win for Mexican client ICA in a multimillion-dollar claim regarding the construction of a hydroelectric project. It also helped ICA to settle an ICC arbitration worth US$450 million over the construction of a port terminal on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
In 2015, the firm helped Siemens and South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction settle a bitter dispute with Pemex over a refinery upgrade, with the state entity agreeing to pay US$295 million.
Von Wobeser provided expert testimony on Mexican law on behalf of KBR in another long-running dispute with Pemex over two offshore gas platforms. He gave evidence in the arbitration, which ended in a US$300 million award in KBR’s favour in 2009, and in New York enforcement proceedings – generating a precedent on the ability of US courts to enforce annulled awards. Pemex finally paid US$435 million to satisfy the award in 2017.
The firm obtained a favourable award in ICC proceedings for an independent energy producer in a dispute with CFE over the termination of a power purchase agreement. The client obtained 88% of the amount claimed in damages and lost profits, and the termination was revoked.
In another ICC case, involving a claim of over US$100 million, it helped IEnova (a joint venture between California’s Sempra Energy and Pemex) settle a dispute with Italian-Argentine engineering group Techint over the construction of a 220-kilometre ethane pipeline in southern Mexico.
Together with Sullivan & Cromwell, Von Wobeser y Sierra successfully represented a subsidiary of Texas-based Sempra Energy in an ICC case brought by Shell and Gazprom. The claimants had asserted force majeure and sought to terminate agreements for the use of an LNG storage facility on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
The award was made public in 2022, revealing that the Sempra subsidiary won an award worth more than US$600 million – and defeated US$710 million in claims lodged by Shell and Gazprom.
Sempra’s subsidiary halted its enforcement efforts in the US in late 2022 after announcing Shell had come into compliance with the award.
Von Wobeser is advising a UK-based power generation company on a potential investor-state arbitration against Mexico in connection with the country’s electricity reform.
The firm also represented a company in an ICC arbitration in Paris worth over US$70 million, involving a dispute between a Mexican state-owned company and one of its contractors. The dispute concerns early termination of operation and maintenance oil extraction contracts and non-payment of the contractor. The parties reached a settlement in 2021.
It is also advising a constructor that entered into several agreements to build power plant projects in northern Mexico. The arbitration centres on the non-payment of the project’s development fee.
Alongside Alston & Bird, it is representing a US tile manufacturer in a NAFTA claim against Mexico over an alleged denial of justice, after a local court enjoined it from pursuing a Houston-seated ICC arbitration against its Mexican joint venture partner.
The firm promoted Rocha and Fautsch to partner in 2022.
Raul Escalante, vice president of Mexican brewery Grupo Modelo’s legal department, says that the firm’s performance is “outstanding” and its lawyers are “incredible” and “always take into consideration the business perspective”.
Branden Camp of US engineering company MSK Covertech, which the firm is representing in a commercial arbitration in Mexico, praises von Wobeser for his “general knowledge and guidance”, as well as Manzano and associate Rodrigo Mancin for their “legal knowledge and strategy”.
Bernardo Casas Godoy of ICA Tenedora says that Von Wobeser y Sierra “has the most experienced arbitration lawyers in Mexico”. The firm has advised the company on multiple construction-related arbitrations, during which Casas Godoy says Magallanes has impressed with his “logic and legal knowledge. He has an excellent way to approach the problems from both a legal and business point of view”.
Von Wobeser y Sierra, S.C. (VWyS) is a top-tier full service law firm founded in 1986, with excellence, integrity, commitment, agility, and diversity as core values.
The firm has 17 practice areas, 6 industry groups and a strong and diverse team of world-class talent of more than one hundred lawyers (including 24 partners, 5 of counsel, and 7 counsel) and legal interns, plus administrative staff.
In the arbitration field, law firm ranking agencies confirm that VWyS is the leading firm for dispute resolution services in Mexico and one of the most prominent in the field in the Latin American region. VWyS is the only firm in Mexico ranked by Global Arbitration Review among the best 100 law firms worldwide and Chambers & Partners as well as Legal 500 have ranked its dispute resolution team in the top tier.
The dispute resolution practice of VWyS is domestic and international, and its clients include many Fortune 500 companies. For more than 36 years, the firm has successfully represented several companies and foreign governments in a wide variety of disputes of different sizes and complexities, ranging from a fully successful defense of a 2.5 billion dollar commercial arbitration claim between two shareholders of a beer company, to a 130 million dollar judicial claim involving the malfunctioning of a satellite in outer space, just to mention some representative examples.
The firm has been particularly active in the energy and construction industries, representing clients in complex arbitration disputes against Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT), and other state entities. The firm is a go-to reference for all disputes against the Mexican government agencies or state-owned companies, particularly in contract based disputes. They have represented many different foreign clients in disputes involving oil and gas issues, energy and electricity, infrastructure, maritime ports, government procurement, etc.
The arbitration practice group of the firm is integrated by partners Claus von Wobeser, Adrián Magallanes, Diego Sierra (both admitted in Mexico and New York) Montserrat Manzano, Raymundo Soberanis and new partners Pablo Fautsch and Jessika Rocha. Also, Justice Ortiz Mayagoitia, former President of the Mexican Supreme Court, is of counsel of the firm. His experience is unparalleled and his advice is very valuable to the firm, particularly in judicial proceedings related to arbitration disputes. Alexandra von Wobeser is also of counsel of the firm and Margarita Luna Ramos, ex-member of the Supreme Court, offers counsel to the firm.
The dispute resolution team includes more than 35 lawyers, all graduates with honors from the top law schools in Mexico, U.S. and Europe, and many of them trained in New York, Washington D.C., Paris and Beijing. VWyS attorneys combine dispute resolution expertise with industry experience and a thorough understanding of key areas of substantive law, including contracts, corporate law, foreign investment, administrative law, and energy law. In addition, many of them are admitted to practice in various jurisdictions, and handle cases in multiple languages. The level of sophistication of this practice group is unparalleled in Mexico and highly competitive worldwide.
Finally, the excellent reputation of VWyS in this field is confirmed and understood by analyzing its track record. Its team comprised of both seasoned litigators and skilled young lawyers has yielded a very high success rate.