7 October 2009 | By Katy Dowell
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The global downturn will sort the men from the boys when it comes to litigation. Domestic litigation has failed to reach epidemic proportions, but firms with strong international practices are picking up a plethora of instructions that will keep them in good health for several years to come.
Mayer Brown is one of four firms to have been instructed by Lloyd’s of London underwriting syndicates to pursue claims arising from the Madoff scandal.
It also picked up an instructions arising from the collapse of Northern Rock (2 October 2008). Partner Clare Canning was instructed by BDO Stoy Hayward’s Andrew Caldwell to help advise the Treasury on valuing the bank’s shares prior to nationalisation. Admittedly it was a proportionately small slice of the Northern Rock pie, but nevertheless it helped get Mayer Brown’s name out there.
The firm’s litigation practice is globally structured with key bases in London, New York, Chicago, Washington and Hong Kong.
“We meet regularly by phone,” says London litigation head David Allen, explaining how partners cooperate globally. Each jurisdiction has its own action group leader who will report into the practice leader and feed upwards into the global hierarchy.
“The idea is that they’ll submit plans and these will be discussed globally,” he continues. “It gets a good debate going and means everybody knows what everybody else is doing.”
In London the litigation board is made up of seven partners including Allen, solicitor advocate Michael Regan, insurance law specialist David Chadwick, professional negligence specialist Canning, head of insurance and reinsurance Karen Abbott, head of finance dispute resolution Andrew Legg and Ian McDonald, who was made head of restructuring, bankruptcy and insolvency in February (17 February 2009).
The team meets quarterly to discuss the firm’s strategy and the progress of a three-year plan put in place last year to help Mayer Brown target new clients.
“The plan is constantly being amended, the key is to be nimble in this market,” says Allen. “Current events will have an impact on what we do. For instance, the collapse of Lehman needed a task force and we needed to get high-speed advice to financial services creditors. We put together people in Asia, London and the US to educate financial clients - we got a fair bit of work out of Lehman.”
High level clients, says Allen, are not put off by the costs of litigating in London.
“I don’t think litigation overall is too expensive, especially in the areas we’re working in,” he says. “The objective of making it cheaper is good and it’s sensible to try to find ways to make it more efficient, provided you don’t take it too far.”
Like many litigators, Allen believes the way to make litigation more efficient is to afford presiding judges the powers to better manage cases.
“Woolf paved the way for more judicial involvement, anything to move that forward would be a good thing,” he says, adding that judges should be able to criticise lawyers in their judgments “as long as it’s a proper and informed view”.
In the meantime, Allen reckons there is far more bank-related litigation to come, believing that it is only a matter of time before banks start to turn on each other.
While Allen concedes that there will be a greater propensity to mediate rather than litigate, Mayer Brown has put in the groundwork in a bid to see at least some of that work come its way.