Willkie Farr & Gallagher
The US firm’s arbitration practice is relatively young but has hit the ground running
|People in Who’s Who Legal||1|
|People in Future Leaders||3|
|Pending cases as counsel||23|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$8 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||3|
|Third-party funded cases||1|
|Current arbitrator appointments||3 (2 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||3|
Willkie Farr & Gallagher was founded in New York in the late 19th century and now has nearly 1,100 lawyers across the US and Europe. The firm is particularly well known for its work in areas such as compliance and investigations.
It has been slow in turning its focus to international arbitration and lacked a standalone practice in this area until recently.
The team began to take shape in 2016 with the hire of partner Grégoire Bertrou in Paris, who joined from Skadden and brought experience in commercial arbitrations over M&As and joint ventures. Soon after, Sergey Alekhin joined from Derains & Gharavi, adding experience of investment arbitration and the CIS region into the mix. He is now a counsel.
In 2019, the firm pulled off a coup by winning mandates to defend Kyrgyzstan in a cluster of high-value investment disputes – taking over from a well-known GAR 100 firm. This spurred the firm on to launch an international arbitration practice group.
The firm recruited partner Duncan Speller in London in 2021 to co-head the group alongside Bertrou. Speller spent nearly two decades at WilmerHale in London and has worked on some of that firm’s biggest cases.
The group has continued to expand. There is a team in Frankfurt led by recently promoted partner Matthias Schrader, and some hires from Paul Hastings in 2019 have given it arbitration capability in Milan. The arrival of a team from Jenner & Block in Chicago in 2021 has also added to its US offering.
The most important offices for arbitration are London, Paris and Frankfurt, with others based in New York and Chicago. The firm has 13 offices across the US and Europe.
Who uses it?
Kyrgyzstan has retained the firm for six investment arbitrations worth a combined US$500 million and related court proceedings. It has also acted for Xerox, CITGO Petroleum, Port of Djibouti and Olin Corporation.
The firm has already achieved impressive results for Kyrgyzstan. After taking over the brief midway through the case, the firm secured the dismissal of a US$300 million claim brought by British Virgin Islands entity Penwell in 2021 by demonstrating that the investment was tainted by illegality.
In the same year, it helped the state to settle a US$74 million dispute with subsidiaries of Russian-owned telecoms group VEON over taxation measures.
Bertrou has also done good work for Thai businessman Nopporn Suppipat in a long-running dispute with Nop Narongdej’s KPN Group over the US$700 million sale of wind energy assets. This includes securing ICC awards worth US$85 million for the client in 2017, and ensuring a further arbitration brought by KPN was declared inadmissible.
Speller’s greatest hits at his former firm WilmerHale include defending the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq in a monumental dispute with Emirati oil companies that settled in 2017.
Willkie helped Kyrgyzstan to consolidate its win against Latvian banker Valeri Belokon, persuading the French Court of Cassation not to reinstate a US$15 million treaty award that was set aside because of red flags indicating money laundering.
Another case the firm was handling for the central Asian state ended in July 2022 with a Russian state-owned hydroelectric company winning an undisclosed sum.
Willkie continues to act for Kyrgyzstan in claims relating to biometric passports, a metallurgical plant project and a gas pipeline project.
It is also representing Armenian investors in a potential Energy Charter Treaty claim against Azerbaijan worth hundreds of millions of dollars – which is believed to be the first investor-state dispute to arise out of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War of 2020. The dispute concerns hydroelectric power plants located in territory retaken by Azerbaijan during the conflict.
Lawyers in the New York office appeared in a landmark case before the US Supreme Court that curbed the availability of discovery for foreign arbitrations. The team represented consulting firm AlixPartners, which had faced the prospect of being compelled to turn over evidence for use in a treaty claim against Lithuania.
In the French courts, it is acting for telecoms company Devas in enforcement proceedings against India.
On the commercial side, it successfully defended Synopsys against an ICC arbitration brought by Siemens Digital Industries Software over patents. It continues to represent Olin Corporation in a series of claims against the Dow Chemical Company.
Schrader was promoted to partner in Frankfurt in 2022. Dharshini Prasad joined the London team as counsel in 2022 from WilmerHale.