The legal business: The default choice

Get me my lawyer!

RARE is the finance minister of a developing country who does not have Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton on speed-dial. Cleary, based in New York, has long been the go-to law firm for governments in debt crises. Since 1983 the firm has advised 28 sovereign debtors in 54 restructurings. Its recent clients include Greece and Iraq, as well as sturdier places like South Korea. Cleary’s lawyers have reaped both fame and fortune as a result: a survey of 17,000 lawyers by Vault, a jobs site, ranked it America’s seventh most prestigious firm. Its profit per partner of $2.9m last year ranks it 12th, according to American Lawyer magazine.In 2014, however, the firm’s sovereign litigation clients have had a year to forget. In July arbitrators in The Hague ruled that Russia had illegally expropriated Yukos, a big oil company. They ordered the government to pay shareholders $50 billion, 20 times the previous record for arbitration. Argentina has suffered three setbacks at America’s Supreme Court. In March the justices reinstated a $185m award against the country. Three months later, they let a ruling…

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