Debevoise & Plimpton has etched itself a position of prestige in the legal market among peers, many of whom laud the firm’s approach as well as its practitioners’ proven skills across the board. “Debevoise is a very classy bunch,” opines one peer. “Always has been. The lawyers there all are very respectable.” It is also noted that Debevoise “has one of the more genuinely diverse benches around,” and that the firm “is not just playing catch-up. They put their money where their mouth is a long time ago.” Indeed, the firm has one of the highest percentages of women appearing as lead counsel on matters and nominated as star players, a metric that has quantified since Benchmark’s first edition in 2008. “It’s pretty remarkable,” observes a peer. “You can look at pretty much any department over there and find it’s populated by women leaders.”
Several sources credit Mary Beth Hogan with fostering this dynamic atmosphere, particularly in its New York office, the larger of the two. A commercial litigator who is also recognized for her investigations work, Hogan is also the co-chair of litigation. “Mary Beth deserves a lot of praise for making Debevoise what it is today.” Maeve O’Connor is an authority in nuanced issues involving the intersection of insurance and securities law. In this capacity, she lays claim to a triumph on behalf of MetLife and certain of its present and former officers in connection with a putative shareholder class-action lawsuit pending in Eastern District of New York asserting claims under the Exchange Act based on allegations that MetLife’s practices and procedures used to estimate its reserves for group annuity payments were inadequate, and that MetLife had inadequate internal controls over financial reporting. The lawsuit arises from MetLife’s 2018 announcement that it would increase reserves by as much as $575 million pre-tax to account for anticipated payments to annuitants and that it had identified a material weakness in internal controls. In January 2021, the court granted O’Connor’s motion to dismiss on all claims, with prejudice. In another matter involving securities and insurance, O’Connor and a quickly emerging securities star, Susan Gittes, are also representing Prudential and several of its officers in connection with a securities class-action and related matters arising from a charge taken in 2019 following the company’s annual review of its actuarial assumptions underlying its life insurance reserves.
Debevoise is lauded nationwide for its white-collar and enforcement practice, considered one of the deepest and most diverse. White-collar stalwart Bruce Yannett has been advising Royal Dutch Shell and serving as global coordinating counsel in connection with a criminal prosecution of the energy giant in Milan, Italy, and related matters. In March 2021, Yannett triumphed for the client when Shell was acquitted by the Criminal Division of the Court of Milan. Andrew Ceresney, a celebrated securities and enforcement presence represents Ripple, a private technology company developing virtual currency payment solutions in connection with ongoing civil litigation in the Southern District of New York against the SEC. “Every inch of Andrew is brains,” comments a peer. “He was the understudy of [another famed white-collar luminary and Debevoise partner] Mary Jo White, where he got great experience and now shines completely on his own.” A rapidly rising presence in the enforcement capacity, Helen Cantwell represented Toyota in a resolution with the DoJ and EPA regarding its emissions reporting practices made under a 2014 monitorship mandated by a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, without any criminal charges being filed. Cantwell, along with David Sarratt, also represented Capital One in a resolution with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for a payment of $290 million (and no criminal charges being filed) for errors the bank made in scrutinizing its now-defunct portfolio of check cashers.
Another area in which Debevoise is regarded as indisputably dominant is the international arbitration arena. Longtime stalwart Donald Donovan, along with “next-generation” stars Dietmar Prager, Mark Friedman and Natalie Reid, represented Tethyan, a company jointly owned by Antofagasta Minerals S.A. of Chile and Barrick Gold Corporation of Canada, in a multibillion-dollar investment dispute arising out of a mining project in Pakistan, winning nearly $6 billion in a July 2019 decision, the second-largest award ever rendered from a World Bank arbitration tribunal. Donovan and Catherine Amirfar prevailed on behalf of Qatar with respect to two proceedings against the United Arab Emirates on provisional measures before the International Court of Justice in a high-profile and complex set of international disputes arising out of manifold coercive measures imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt on Qatar. As a result of these coercive measures, Qataris have been suffering grave human rights abuses. Friedman also represents Gramercy Funds Management and an affiliate in a US $1.8 billion UNCITRAL arbitration against the Government of Peru under the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement, arising out of Peru’s efforts to evade payment of agrarian bonds issued in exchange for property expropriated by the government in the 1970s. Also acting on this matter is Ina Popova, one of the firm’s most enthusiastically received young stars. “Debevoise has a reputation as being internationally ingrained but Ina really raises the stakes further,” extols a peer. “At her young age, she speaks several languages and has a résumé that would just make you cry.”
Another niche area Debevoise lays claim to is the trademark-focused intellectual property practice, helmed by David Bernstein. Bernstein represented digital travel entity Booking.com B.V. in a Supreme Court case, where the Court ruled 8-1 that Booking.com’s eponymous domain name is not generic and could register as a trademark. Bernstein also represented Costco Wholesale Corporation in a successful appeal before the Second Circuit that reversed a lower court decision granting summary judgment to Tiffany & Co. on its claim that Costco willfully infringed and counterfeited the TIFFANY trademark.