Legal Business

Financial centre: Three Crowns chooses Middle East for first office since launch

Boutique arbitration firm Three Crowns has opened a Middle Eastern office in Bahrain, its first expansion since being founded five years ago.

Three Crowns opened in Washington, Paris and London in April 2014 after being set up by former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer arbitration partners Constantine Partasides, Georgios Petrochilos and Jan Paulsson as well as former partners from Jones Day, Covington & Burling and Shearman & Sterling.

Today (1 October), it announced it was establishing a presence in the Middle East to serve clients including the Kingdom of Bahrain and Sultanate of Oman. It has also advised in the energy, construction, telecoms and defence sectors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya and Iraq.

The firm focuses exclusively on arbitration: commercial, investment-treaty, and inter-state. Founding partner Paulsson and partner Scott Vesel will jointly lead the Bahrain office.

Paulsson moves from the Washington office and has decades of experiences practising as an advocate and arbitrator in international cases including cases in the Middle East. Vesel has acted in international investment and commercial arbitrations in the oil and gas, construction, energy, technology and agribusiness sectors in jurisdictions across the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

Paulsson commented: ‘We’ve had a number of significant cases that have been handled out of our other offices. Those of us who like living in this region want to cut down on our own travelling and obviously it’s more efficient for us to work more locally, rather than commuting, so it makes sense from that point of view. There are the usual significant construction disputes. I have been more involved in the energy area and in finance.’

The firm currently has two partners and one associate in Bahrain but Paulsson says the firm may hire locally and that the office won’t stay at one associate for very long. ‘The firm has grown beyond our expectations. We were content with the idea of moving slowly but it never works out that way,’ he added, while saying that the firm has no current plans to open in other jurisdictions saying, ‘From our side, we need to assimilate before we move on’.

The firm has 53 lawyers across all four offices. Last year, Three Crowns hired Freshfields litigation partner Reza Mohtashami QC, who rose to prominence in London as part of the firm’s well-established international arbitration practice after a successful five-year stint in Dubai.

Legal Business

‘Fits our philosophy and style of practice perfectly’: Three Crowns hires its first female partner from Covington


Arbitration boutique Three Crowns has hired its first female partner, Carmen Martinez Lopez, from Covington & Burling as the firm boosts its arbitration capabilities, especially in the Latin American and Spanish-language markets.

The firm has also hired a senior associate for each of its three offices in Washington, London and Paris, totalling a team of 23 associates firm wide.

Martinez Lopez will be based in London, taking up the role in January 2015, and has experience of acting as counsel in investment treaty and commercial arbitrations, both under the rules of the major arbitral institutions and ad hoc, involving a variety of jurisdictions. In addition, she is dual-qualified in civil law and common law.

Martinez Lopez joined Covington & Burling in May 2009, before which she was based in New York and Paris at Debevoise & Plimpton for three years, and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton before that for a year in Brussels.

Some of her key cases include representing a European gas major in a Spanish law ICC arbitration relating to European and African assets; and representing independent oil and gas companies in an ICDR arbitration under New York law arising out of a crude transportation agreement.

The arbitration boutique was launched in April this year and was initially set up by three senior arbitrators from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer alongside partners from Jones Day, Covington & Burling and Shearman & Sterling. At that time, the firm received some criticism for not having any female partners.

Constantine Partasides QC, founding partner, said: ‘The market has embraced our distinct business model with enthusiasm, and immediate client demand has led to this early expansion. Carmen fits our philosophy and style of practice perfectly, will be a huge asset to our clients, and a role model within our growing firm. Our new senior associates, Nick, Lucy and Agustin – each of whom is already a significant practitioner in their own right – further state our intent to providing specialised arbitration expertise to suit our client’s diversified cultural and business needs.’

Legal Business

Perspectives: Jan Paulsson, Three Crowns


I didn’t start school until I was 13. I grew up in Liberia and it was wonderful growing up in the jungle because there were no schools! But my parents were increasingly nervous about how they were ‘mistreating’ their only son and told me I had to go to school. They had previously taken me to Sweden but having grown up in West Africa I didn’t care for Sweden’s winters very much. So they found some people in Los Angeles who would take me in, and I started in a public high school. Later, I would go to Harvard and Yale.

I started practising law in 1975 not having any idea of what I was doing. I began my career at Coudert Frères in Paris and like most people starting off, I didn’t know long I would do it, or whether I liked it, and whether Paris was the right city for me. I had no idea what practising law, or arbitration, was all about. My arrival coincided with a crisis for one of the clients in the firm – there was a dispute between the Libyan American Oil Company and the Libyan government. The concession agreement called for international arbitration under principles common to Libyan law and international law. I had studied international law at Yale and right off the bat the senior partner walks up the hall and asks if there was anybody who had studied it. That was the start – I never did anything else.

Legal Business

Looking to the future



Three Crowns’ Jan Paulsson looks at how little we know about arbitration in the present and what that means for predicting the future

Speculating about the future of international arbitration is a more comfortable activity than speculating about its present, because as long as we are not talking about the near future we will not be proved wrong, or be criticised for not knowing the unknowable. But are we really entitled to assert very much about the future when we in truth know so little about the present? We are indeed reduced to speculating about the present, and it is worth reflecting on the causes and consequences of finding ourselves in such a frustrating (and humbling) predicament.