Donald Francis Donovan

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP 

Donald Francis Donovan is Co-Chair of Debevoise’s International Dispute Resolution Group and its Public International Law Group and serves as counsel in international disputes before international courts, international arbitration tribunals, and courts in the United States. Based on surveys of others in the field, Mr. Donovan is widely regarded as one of the leading international arbitration practitioners, international lawyers, and international advocates in the world. He is ranked in the top band in Chambers in International Arbitration (Global), International Arbitration (Latin America), and Public International Law (Global), the only person so ranked in each of those categories.

He has been described in that and similar publications as “a dominant figure in the international arbitration scene,” as “a recognized leader in commercial, investment, and international law cases,” as “one of the world’s leading practitioners in both investment treaty and commercial arbitration,” as “obviously a brilliant public international law specialist,” as attracting “widespread praise for his work as counsel and as arbitrator,” as “one of the best advocates that you will ever see,” as a “visionary,” an “absolute star,” an “arbitration superstar,” an “international arbitration maestro,” a “tremendous intellect,” a “truly amazing lawyer,” a “towering figure,” a “brilliant” and “superb” oral advocate, and “the model team leader,” with “a great strategic view,” and as “combative,” “extraordinarily talented,” and “absolutely excellent, truly top of the line.”

In 2012, on presenting him its Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Profession Award, Chambers USA reported that a client summed him up as “a model of what a top international arbitration lawyer ought to be: brilliant, hands on, accessible, client-friendly and extremely hard working.” Chambers Global quoted one interviewee as stating: “I wouldn’t think about going to anyone else with a complex arbitration matter.”

Mr. Donovan is also recommended as a “renowned” international arbitration practitioner by The Legal 500 US, Benchmark Litigation considers him an “icon,” and he is named a Thought Leader for Arbitration by Who’s Who Legal which notes his “impressive capacity for understanding and scoping the conflict.”

Mr. Donovan also regularly sits as arbitrator in international cases, including under the auspices of ICSID, the ICC, and the ICDR, as president, chair, sole arbitrator, and co-arbitrator.

Mr. Donovan is the Immediate Past President of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA), the leading global organization of international arbitrators and arbitration practitioners.

He earlier served as President of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) and Chair of the Institute for Transnational Arbitration (ITA). He serves as a Member of the U.S. Department of State’s Advisory Committee on International Law, a Member of the Advisory Committees of the American Law Institute for the Restatement (Fourth) of Foreign Relations Law of the United States and for the Restatement of the U.S. Law of International Commercial Arbitration and a Member of the Board of Human Rights First and Chair of its Litigation Committee.

He teaches International Arbitration and International Investment Law and Arbitration at the New York University School of Law and International Investment Arbitration at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He regularly speaks and writes on international law, international arbitration, and international litigation topics.

Mr. Donovan has argued international law, arbitration law, commercial law, and other issues before the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, Fourth, Ninth, and District of Columbia Circuits, and other federal and state courts throughout the United States; the International Court of Justice and other international courts and tribunals; and arbitration tribunals sitting around the world, constituted under the auspices of the world’s leading arbitration institutions, in a wide range of economic sectors, in disputes arising under both contracts and treaties. His practice includes the representation of states, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and multinational companies.

Mr. Donovan joined Debevoise after serving as law clerk to Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court and as legal assistant to Judge Howard M. Holtzmann of the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal.

He received his B.A. in 1977 from the University of Virginia and his J.D. in 1981 from Stanford Law School, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif and served on the Stanford Law Review.


  • A publicly-listed mining company and its subsidiaries in a multi-billion dollar arbitration against an African government seated in London under the UNCITRAL Rules.
  • The State of Qatar and Qatari entities and individuals in international claims arising out of the measures imposed by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar, including winning an order for provisional measures in proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the United Arab Emirates, investment arbitrations and claims in other international tribunals.
  • Claimant Tethyan Copper Company (jointly owned by Barrick Gold and Antofagasta Minerals) in an ICSID arbitration against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and an ICC arbitration against the Pakistani province of Balochistan in disputes regarding a copper and gold mining project in the west of Pakistan.
  • Pueblo Viejo Dominicana, a joint venture between Barrick Gold and Goldcorp, in a dispute with the Government of the Dominican Republic regarding the Pueblo Viejo gold, silver and copper mine, which is reported to be the largest foreign investment in the Dominican Republic.
  • Holcim Ltd. and its two wholly owned Dutch subsidiaries, Holderfin B.V. and Caricement B.V., in a dispute against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, arising from the expropriation of their local subsidiary by the Venezuelan government, leading to a $650 million settlement that has been fully paid.
  • Mitsui in a dispute with Anglo American in relation to Mitsui’s financing of the exercise of an option by Codelco to purchase part of the Chilean copper miner Anglo American Sur.
  • A construction company in an ICC arbitration with a major oil company under an EPC contract for the construction of a semi-submersible drilling platform.
  • A leading telecommunications and digital media company in an LCIA arbitration of a contractual dispute arising out of the purchase of assets in multiple jurisdictions, winning a complete victory on indemnification claims of over €139 million, defeating counterclaims of over €84 million, and obtaining a substantial costs award.
  • Japanese shareholder in AAA arbitration involving a dispute arising from a shareholders’ agreement in a Brazilian mining company.
  • VRG Linhas Aereas, a Brazilian airline, before the Second Circuit in an appeal from an order denying enforcement of a Brazilian arbitration award and raising issues under the New York Convention and U.S. arbitration law.
  • The lead claimant in Reineccius, First Eagle, and Mathieu v. Bank for International Settlements, in which a five-member tribunal constituted under the 1930 Hague Agreement awarded private shareholders some $500 million.
  • The United Nations in Brzak v. United Nations, successfully asserting its rights under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and corresponding U.S. law; obtaining dismissal of suit filed in the Southern District of New York against the Organization and several employees; successfully defending the appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; and successfully opposing the petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as amicus curiae in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the rights of the Guantanamo detainees to judicial review of their detention.
    Oy Metsä-Botnia in its $1.3 billion greenfield investment in the Orion pulp mill project in Uruguay and the Case Concerning Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay) in the International Court of Justice, which concerns that project. Argentina commenced proceedings against Uruguay in the ICJ pursuant to a bilateral treaty concerning the River Uruguay, which forms a shared border between the two countries, claiming that Uruguay had violated the treaty by allowing construction of the mill.
  • The European Commission as amicus curiae in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, in which the EC urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take a rigorous international law approach to the Alien Tort Statute.
  • A group of negotiators and experts on the Chemical Weapons Convention as amici curiae in Bond v. United States, in which the U.S. Supreme Court considered a constitutional challenge to the federal statute implementing the Convention.


  • Stanford Law School, 1981, J.D.
  • University of Virginia, 1977, B.A.

Bar Admissions:

  • New York


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