Debevoise beefs up London arbitration team with hire of King's Counsel from Gibson Dunn

Rare lateral hire by Debevoise in London sees silk swap US firms to co-lead European arbitration practice

Debevoise & Plimpton has beefed up its ranks of senior international arbitrators with the hire of Jeff Sullivan KC from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in London.

Sullivan will join the New York-based firm in July as co-chair of international arbitration in Europe alongside former UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith KC.

Pending the conclusion of an ongoing matter, he will practise as a consultant, before linking up with Goldsmith, who joined Debevoise in 2007 and also heads both its EMEA and Asia litigation groups.

Sullivan’s arrival will add advocacy heft to Debevoise’s London office: Goldsmith has been its only silk since the departure of partner Wendy Miles KC for leading London barristers’ set Twenty Essex in July 2020.

Sullivan took silk in 2021, making him one of the few Americans to receive the award. He is dual-qualified in both England & Wales and the US and is known for his energy, construction, and commercial arbitration practices.

He advises clients on all aspects of public international law and has also advised nation states in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East on the negotiation and drafting of trade and investment treaties.

He leaves Gibson Dunn after more than five years, having previously spent eleven years at Allen & Overy, where he made partner.

His hire is something of a coup for Debevoise, which prides itself on its leadership credentials in the field of international arbitration and lost two heavyweight practitioners last year through retirement from the partnership: David W Rivkin, a former IBA president, and Donald Donovan, former co-head of disputes and a past president of the International Association of Commercial Arbitrators.

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Like his predecessors, Sullivan is an active and senior participant within the arbitration community.

He is as a member of the ICC’s UK arbitration nominations committee and the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) Secretariat’s legal advisory taskforce at a time when the treaty has come under fire from campaign group Client Earth, which has accused the ECT of being “an outdated international investment agreement that allows foreign companies to claim compensation from governments for introducing policy changes and laws that impact their profitability”.

His academic insights, meanwhile, have placed him on the board of the influential European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) while he also serves on the Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy.

Debevoise was keen to play up the move as demand-led. Presiding partner Peter Furci cited “continued strong demand from multinational corporations, private equity sponsors and governments for counsel on the most complex international disputes and evolving issues of public international law”.

Goldsmith himself hailed Sullivan’s “prodigious understanding of energy and infrastructure disputes,” adding “his experience in renewable energy disputes is particularly impressive,” while Sullivan acknowledged the firm’s provenance, adding that “its next generation of leaders are already making waves.”

Goldsmith, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down, fifty years after his call to the Bar. The peer announced he was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords last year, following rule changes that would require him to disclose his earnings, including from state clients in investor-state claims, whose needs Sullivan will also now attend to. 

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