One of the world’s largest law firms is now representing one of the world’s most troubled countries.
Dentons, having just launched a new consulting service for in-house lawyers, has picked up partner David Syed in London. Syed, who once served as a member of the executive committee at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, will lead a Dentons team advising the Venezuelan government in its bid to restructure roughly $60 billion in sovereign debt.
The International Financing Review, a unit of Thomson Reuters Corp., reported Monday that Syed had left Orrick over the weekend after the Am Law 100 firm declined to do business with the Venezuelan government. Many top officials in the South American nation are the subject of U.S. sanctions, the latest batch of which was levied last week by the Trump administration.
“David Syed has resigned as a partner in our firm for reasons related to client interests,” an Orrick spokeswoman said in a statement to The American Lawyer. “We are deeply grateful to David for his contributions as an Orrick partner and in the development of our international platform. We wish him continuing success.”
Syed’s profile on professional networking website LinkedIn now lists him as a senior lawyer at Dentons. He had worked at Orrick since 2002, when the firm opened an office in Paris after absorbing a team of lawyers from British firm Watson Farley & Williams. Syed eventually became senior partner for Europe at Orrick and relocated to London, where in early 2012 he was named global head of finance at the firm. Syed also once held the role of managing partner for strategy at Orrick.
That pedigree was likely attractive to Dentons, which is one of several large law firms representing clients in the $70 billion sovereign debt restructuring facing Puerto Rico. In a statement of its own, Dentons said that Syed will lead the firm’s sovereign practice and split his time between London, continental Europe, the U.S., Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“The strategic hire will strengthen Dentons’ cross-border M&A and capital markets offering,” the firm said. “[Syed] brings extensive experience advising government clients on trade and investment strategy and representing large blue-chip multinationals on high-value M&A and capital market transactions across many industry sectors, including energy, mining, transportation, infrastructure and telecommunications.”
A Dentons spokeswoman did not address questions about the firm’s ability to advise the Venezuelan government and comply with certain U.S. sanctions. Dentons itself, the largest firm in the world by attorney head count after its landmark 2015 combination with leading Chinese firm Dacheng, operates under the Swiss verein structure and is not considered by The American Lawyer and its affiliated publications to be a U.S. law firm.
Venezuela, which for months has teetered on the edge of economic and political collapse as a result of plunging oil prices, last week saw its debt crisis enter a new stage after Caracas-based power company Corporación Eléctrica Nacional (Corpoelec) defaulted on a $28 million payment on a $650 million bond.
So-called vulture investors and their high-powered U.S. lawyers, many of whom waged a long legal battle involving financially troubled Argentina, are now reportedly circling Venezuela despite the looming uncertainty of U.S. sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Venezuela’s largest creditor is China, which could have a key role in any potential financial rescue package.
In a white paper published in September by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton partner Richard Cooper and former firm managing partner Mark Walker, now a managing director at restructuring firm Millstein & Co., the two wrote that Venezuela should put its state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) into Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Venezuela made an overdue $1.1 billion bond payment last week to avert a default by PDVSA.
Cleary Gottlieb partner Lee Buchheit, another sovereign debt expert who had a lead role alongside his former colleague Walker in advising on the $173 billion bailout of Greece in 2012, has written his own white paper on the Venezuelan debt situation with Duke University School of Law professor G. Mitu Gulati, a former associate at Cleary Gottlieb. Gulati and Buchheit also wrote in October that any post-Maduro government in Venezuela should think about a debt standstill agreement with creditors.