White & Case
There were wins for Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria and Georgia and settlements for US and Japanese clients
|People in Who’s Who Legal||24|
|People in Future Leaders||20|
|Pending cases as counsel||327|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$225 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||59|
|Third-party funded cases||10|
|Current arbitrator appointments||32 (20 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||18|
White & Case has 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).
Things really kicked off in the 1970s 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 and has proved a particular pioneer in investor-state work. Its credits include the first ICSID case against a Latin American state, defending the first Energy Charter Treaty case, and bringing one of the earliest NAFTA cases.
The practice now has 200 lawyers working around the globe, including in many spots where you will not find rivals.
Washington, DC remains a key office for the practice. The firm’s global head of international arbitration Abby Cohen Smutny is based there, as is Carolyn Lamm – a past president of the American Bar Association. Another Washington, DC partner, Jonathan Hamilton, is often seen on investor-state disputes with a Latin American angle.
There are some niche areas associated with particular offices. In Paris and London, there is a heavy focus on projects and construction work. Christopher Seppälä in Paris is long-standing legal adviser to the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC). Phillip Capper, head of international arbitration in London, is also well known in construction.
The Paris office also now spends a lot of time on energy work thanks to Michael Polkinghorne. The London office built a name in Russia-related work thanks to David Goldberg. There is also an investment treaty practice in London thanks to Goldberg and former US State Department lawyer Andrea Menaker, who relocated there from Washington, DC.
Other partners to know include Ank Santens in New York, who heads the practice’s Americas disputes section; and Anne Véronique Schlaepfer, based in Geneva.
Of the firm’s 46 offices, 19 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, Warsaw, Doha, Dubai, Muscat and Sydney.
The firm announced the closure of its Moscow office in March 2022 following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Who uses it?
Government clients include Bulgaria, Georgia, Macedonia, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Nigeria and Uzbekistan. It has 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, but the firm has said it is winding down work for those states and associated state entities in accordance with its professional responsibilities and will not take new instructions from them.
On the corporate side, it has done work for Alstom, Eni, HOCHTIEF, Hutchison Port Holdings, Jindal Steel &Power, Gabriel Resources, Israel Chemicals, PKN ORLEN and Toshiba, among many others. It has also represented companies owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and the family of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.
The practice is popular in the field of construction. It is 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:
- defeating 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 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);
- a series of great results for Uzbekistan, including the first dismissal of a treaty claim at ICSID because of corruption (Metal-Tech), and defeating the bulk of a US$1.3 billion claim by a mining company (Oxus Gold); and
- defence wins for Peru in an US$800 million treaty claim relating to environmental pollution in the Andes, and Saudi Arabia in a US$570 million claim brought by a French fashion and restaurant chain.
The firm achieved another victory for Saudi Arabia, seeing off a US$318 million ICSID claim brought by Samsung Engineering over a desalination and power plant. Saudi Arabia has also retained it for a new ICSID claim brought by a Hong Kong telecoms investor.
The firm reports successfully defending Bulgaria against an US$835 million ICSID claim brought by Czech investor Energo-Pro. The arbitration concerned regulatory reforms in the solar power sector.
White & Case helped Peru defeat the bulk of a US$1.8 billion claim brought by US private equity firm Gramercy relating to land bonds issued half a century ago. Gramercy won around US$100 million including interest. The firm came off the record in the case after all pleadings had concluded.
Despite a relationship going back many years, it appears that Peru is no longer a regular client of the practice – in fact the firm has come on the record as co-counsel to Spain’s Telefónica in an ICSID case against Peru.
The firm helped Japanese oil and gas producer INPEX settle a US$970 million ICC claim against South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. The Korean side agreed to pay an undisclosed sum after White & Case lawyers overturned an Australian court injunction preventing INPEX’s call on a guarantee.
It helped Florida’s TECO Energy obtain a US$46 million settlement from Guatemala – ending an ICSID dispute over electricity tariffs that went before four different panels in 12 years.
There were successes for Georgia’s roads department in a series of ICC cases concerning a highway project. The client said White & Case helped it win US$64 million across the three arbitrations.
The firm’s Stockholm office is also advising Georgia in a Swedish court challenge to a US$112 million SCC award favouring Russian state-owned energy company Inter RAO.
In the French courts, White & Case successfully defended its US$650 million ICC win for Portugal’s PT Ventures in set-aside proceedings – a case that raised novel issues over the appointment of a five-member arbitral tribunal.
For Greek contractor Archirodon, it won a US$100 million award against an Iraqi state-owned ports company over the construction of a sea wall.
US company Próspera has instructed the firm for a nearly US$11 billion ICSID claim against Honduras over plans to repeal special economic zones.
Its docket of pending ICSID work includes representing investors in claims against Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Panama, Romania, Serbia and Spain. It is also defending North Macedonia, Belarus, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan in other cases.
South Korea is using it to defend a pair of long-running treaty cases. The firm is also defending Nigeria against a Burford Capital-backed US$400 million ICC claim concerning a hydropower project.
Another new instruction came from French rail transport group Alstom in a new ICC claim against Canada’s Bombardier over a €4.4 billion acquisition.
White & Case is also working for a group of traders in a “landmark” HKIAC claim against cryptocurrency exchange Binance for losses they incurred when its platform crashed.
There were promotions to the partnership for Nicolle Kownacki in Washington, DC, Estefanía San Juan in Miami, Jakub Wołkowicz in Warsaw, and Karim Mariey and Adam Tahsin in London.
Melody Chan, who served as head of disputes for Greater China, left the Hong Kong office for Allen & Overy.
Islambek Rustambekov of the Uzbek Ministry of Justice says White & Case is “highly qualified, very knowledgeable and well versed” in 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 a White & Case team 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.