A contentious year beckons

It’s only halfway through January and it’s already clear that the big action this year is going to be in contentious work. The Lawyer’s annual pick of the top cases of the year (see story) is usually a must-read for litigators, but anyone with an interest in what will be making it into the business pages this year should read our preview.

The picks include substantial unfair competition cases involving the OFT and Ofcom and two major insurance cases relating to Buncefield and the fallout over The Accident Group (TAG). What’s more, the courts are still hearing six of the massive cases of 2007, which have yet to conclude. There’s no shortage of work.

Much of the legal market’s attention will inevitably be focused towards the Hammonds partnership dispute. Hammonds’ last foray into the courts was the football league case, where its bullish line – stiffened in the wake of Equitable – paid off. But partnership disputes, as Freshfields will attest, are considerably more emotional and very, very messy.

Clearly, equal pay litigation against the NHS (and today we reveal a test case in this regard – see story) will be a landmark moment. Another to keep an eye on in the short term is the Boxclever litigation. With all the issues of misrepresentation, duty of care, exclusion of liability and complex financial modellings, Boxclever, which starts next week, could well foreshadow cases arising from the subprime crisis.

However, some litigators are interested to see what effect the Commercial Court’s insistence on shorter trials post-BCCI will have on such complex claims. One lawyer warns that drastic editing of pre-trial activity could mean that the court may not get to the heart of the matter early on, making the outcome even less predictable.

When Cravath Swaine & Moore, one of the most conservative firms in Wall Street, dispatches a litigator to London (see story), you know something’s in the air. Even without the credit crunch, litigation is genuinely looking more attractive as a commercial option. The streamlining of court procedures is one reason; another is claimants’ easier access to cash via third-party funding.

Add the subprime fallout to this mix and you’ve got a perfect storm.