Which practices were rated as the best international arbitration law firms and practice groups, globally, in 2017?
This annual update provides an overview and comparison of the rankings of the best international arbitration law firms in Chambers and Partners, Legal 500, GAR and Leaders League in 2017, which reflect emerging trends such as a growing number of smaller boutique practices slowly, but surely, finding their own place in the upper echelons of an increasingly competitive global legal market.
Both Legal 500 and Chambers were established in the late 1980’s, providing the first global “research directory” of lawyers, adding to more traditional mechanisms of finding qualified lawyers, such as by word of mouth. In the field of international arbitration, more recent upstarts such as Leaders League (founded in 1996 in Paris, France), Law 360 (founded in 2003, now owned by Lexis Nexis) and the Global Arbitration Review (founded in 2006) have also established newer rankings of the top international arbitration law firms and practice groups.
We briefly identify the ranking methodology used by each research directory, prior to providing an overview of the results.
Chambers & Partners’ Best International Arbitration Law Firms in 2017
The oldest global ranking of international arbitration law firms worldwide is provided by Chambers and Partners, based in London. Law firms and individuals are ranked in different Bands from 1-6 and the rankings are based on technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment and other qualities. Chambers and Partners also contacts previous clients (selected by the law firm being reviewed) in order to determine their opinion on firms and lawyers. Based on the abovementioned criteria, the ranking of best arbitration law firms in 2017, globally, as available on their website, is as follows:
The law firms ranked in Band 1 in 2017 include Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, King & Spalding LLP and White & Case LLP. These are followed by Allen & Overy LLP, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Herbert Smith Freehills, Shearman & Sterling LLP and WilmerHale in Band 2. A more detailed overview of each of the abovementioned law firms, their strengths and work highlights, as well as notable practitioners and most important clients, can be found on Chambers and Partner’s website.
In comparison to other rankings, such as those of GAR and the Legal 500, Chambers and Partners puts more emphasis on individual outstanding lawyers, also divided into Band 1-5. While two ranked as Star Individuals are Gary Born and Emmanuel Gaillard, who are both highly respected in the field of international arbitration, many noticeable leading arbitration practitioners are, however, missing.
The Legal 500’s Best International Arbitration Law Firms and Practice Groups in 2017
The Legal 500 has also long-provided rankings of the best international arbitration law firms and practice groups. Primary factors taken into account by the Legal 500’s rankings include recent work (typically in the past 2 months) and historical track record (usually the past 3-5 years). However, the rankings also take into account the breadth of practice and coverage, the breadth of industry sector coverage, the experience of the team, client feedback, significant market and economic developments and “other” factors. As the Legal 500 does not publish ranking information for the world as a whole, we shall examine rankings in London and Paris, two traditional hubs of international arbitration.
In the ranking of the best firms in International Arbitration in London, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, also ranked as Band 1 by Chambers and Partners, comes first, along with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (UK) LLP and WilmerHale. Second place is held by Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, Hogan Lovells International LLP, Three Crowns LLP (an arbitration boutique founded in 2014) and White & Case LLP.
The list is slightly different with respect to the top arbitration practices in Paris although there is overlap. The number one law firm is again Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, along with Shearman & Sterling LLP and White & Case LLP. A few other names which appear in second place include Dechert LLP and Derains & Gharavi, the latter of which is an arbitration boutique founded in 2009.
Les Décideurs / Leaders League’s Best International Arbitration Law Firms in 2017
The Leaders League, founded in Paris, also provides for a ranking of international arbitration law firms based on individual countries. Criteria taken into consideration for this ranking include the reputation of the firm, its size, the seniority of its partners, its managing directors, the level of education of the associates, the number, prestige and diversity of the firm’s cases and growth in the firm’s turnover.
In the listing of leading French law firms in International Arbitration in 2017, in first place are Shearman & Sterling LLP together with White & Case LLP, as in the Legal 500, immediately followed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Dechert, Bredin Prat and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in second place. The ranking further provides for a list of other recommended law firms, including recommended smaller boutique practices such as Lazareff le Bars and Aceris Law.
Global Arbitration Review’s Best International Arbitration Law Firms and Practice Groups in 2017
While the Global Arbitration Review is the newest entrant in terms of lawyer and law firm rankings, the GAR 30 and GAR 100 also provide well-respected rankings of leading firms. The GAR 30 is an overview of the thirty “busiest” arbitration practices, generated from the size and number of disputes argued in the past two years. The methodology used by GAR is a rather complex method of comparison of the following:
- The number of merits and jurisdictional hearings which took place in a two-year period and the amount of money at stake;
- The number of hours billed in the past two years;
- The number of lawyers at the firm who were peer selected for inclusion in Who is Who Legal: Arbitration;
- The number of pending cases in which firm’s members have been appointed as arbitrators.
The most recent GAR 30 rankings for 2017 are available online and may be accessed on GAR’s website here. White & Case LLP holds the first place, as in the Leader’s League, immediately followed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Herbert Smith Freehills in second and third position. Shearman and Sterling LLP dropped down one place in GAR, from 4th to 5th position, while Allen & Overy LLP and Three Crowns (a boutique practice) have seen a jump to 4th an 7th places, respectively. Other firms such as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Hogan Lovells, Clifford Chance LLP and King and Spalding LLP have remained amongst the top ten.
Best International Arbitration Law Firms: What to Make of the Rankings?
The above comparison demonstrates that it is more or less the same large, international law firms that dominate the upper echelons of the rankings in Chambers and Partners, the Legal 500, the Leaders League and the GAR 30, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Shearman & Sterling LLP and White & Case LLP leading the head of the pack, as has often been the case over the past decade.
While one may take issue that certain factors used in the rankings, such as the number of hours billed or the profits of a firm, should in fact be red flags for clients, since they suggest that legal representation for international arbitration will be very expensive, there is no doubt that leaders in the field, such as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Shearman & Sterling LLP and White & Case LLP, have a number of gifted arbitration practitioners, and such large corporate firms may be an appropriate choice for some of the highest value international arbitration cases, since the fees to be charged will comprise a proportionally smaller portion of the amount in dispute.
One must not, however, neglect arbitration boutique firms, which are increasingly making a dent in the upper echelons of international arbitration law firm rankings. The best examples of small boutique law firms which have recorded increasing name recognition over the past few years is likely Three Crowns, founded in April 2014 by six partners who were practicing in some of world’s top international arbitration law firm practice groups, including one of the best-known arbitrators, Jan Paulsson, the former head of international arbitration group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. Other arbitration boutiques with increasing name recognition include Chaffetz Lindsey, formed by five partners from Clifford Chance LLP in 2009 in New York, as well as Derains & Gharavi, also founded in 2009 by Yves Derains, a former secretary general of the ICC Court of Arbitration, Hamid Gharavi of Salans, and Bertrand Derains, which has also expanded to Washington DC and Beirut.
While the leading international arbitration corporate law firms still have a hold on many of the highest value international arbitration cases, it cannot be denied that smaller boutique practices are slowly making their own way to the top. Part of this is likely to be purely economic in nature, as boutique practices are said to charge less than other law firms in terms of legal fees (although this is doubtful at certain star-studded arbitration boutiques, and only the boutique Aceris Law is explicitly founded on the principle of offering high quality at lower costs).
While corporate law firms will likely remain at the top of the rankings over the coming years, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Shearman & Sterling LLP and White & Case LLP will continue to remain a safe bet for in-house counsel seeking counsel for high-value disputes in the billions of dollars, the rise of arbitration boutiques continues, as reflected by the 2017 rankings.