Christa Band is moving from one of the City’s top dispute resolution teams to Linklaters’ much less visible litigation practice. The magic circle firm must
be changing its strategy, says Kit Chellel
The sudden defection of litigation star Christa Band to Linklaters will come as a surprise to those who have watched her rise through the ranks at Herbert Smith.
Band has left one of the City’s pre-eminent dispute resolution practices to join a department that has not made a lateral hire in nearly two years.
And Linklaters is hardly best known for its litigation practice, which forms one of the smaller parts of the firm.
But on closer examination the move does make sense, both for Band, who will be given greater responsibility in a smaller department, and for Linklaters, which is targeting disputes in the financial services sector.
Band rose to prominence in the late 1990s working on the fallout from the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
Then a rising star in Herbert Smith’s litigation team, she acted for the bank’s auditors Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)), which was being sued by liquidator Deloitte & Touche after BCCI was seized by regulators. The case settled for $175m in 1998.
Her largest instruction, though, was on the litigation surrounding Vodafone’s hostile takeover of Mannesmann in 2000. Band acted for Goldman Sachs, which was taken to court by Mannesmann to prevent the bank acting for Vodafone.
Mannesmann argued that since Goldman Sachs had advised both it and Orange in the past, it was privy to confidential information.
Band, alongside corporate partner Henry Raine, won the day, overcoming Mannesmann’s advisers Norton Rose in the High Court.
She is now well-known for her work in the financial services arena.
One City litigation partner describes her as “exceptionally talented”.
In the years since Mannesmann Band has worked on high-profile cases such as Equitable Life’s long-running damages claim against Ernst & Young, where again the accountants were taken to court.
In that case Band acted for the litigant, Equitable Life, which abandoned its claim in 2005.
But it is fair to say she has not quite reached the heights that many expected of her a decade ago, and the move to Linklaters could raise her profile.
The prospect of a significant pay increase must have made Linklaters all the more appealing. When Band finishes her gardening leave in December, she will join a firm with an average profit per equity partner (PEP) figure of £1.3m.
By contrast, Herbert Smith has seen its PEP fall below £1m this year to £845,000.
For its part, Linklaters has remained oddly silent about capturing such a recognised name.
“We’re delighted Christa is joining us and have nothing more to say,” commented Linklaters UK head of litigation Michael Bennett when contacted by The Lawyer.
Perhaps Bennett is mindful of the ruffled feathers at Herbert Smith, where the revenue from litigation dwarfs that of Linklaters, with the former turning over £162m last year, £120m in London alone. But Herbert Smith has virtually never lost a partner. It is fair to surmise that there would have been some consternation at Herbert Smith at seeing one of its better-known litigators take Linklaters’ bait.
Band will be one of the most experienced partners in Linklaters’ 15-partner disputes team in the UK, but Bennett would not confirm whether she will hold any managerial responsibilities.
Some will see Band’s appointment as a like-for-like replacement for Diana Good, a Linklaters litigation partner for 16 years who retired in November last year. Good also spent much of her career working on financial services, but left the firm to spend more time with her family.
However, Band’s arrival does fit with the firm’s stated strategy of being the key adviser to large international companies. Banks and accountancy firms in particular will benefit from her expertise in both bringing and defending claims.
Who better to advise in cases arising out of the Lehman Brothers administration, given her role on the BCCI collapse?
“I suspect Linklaters will be looking to beef up their financial services capacity. They’ve got a lot to offer someone like Christa,” says a partner at a rival firm.
Meanwhile, Herbert Smith is unlikely to be damaged by Band’s departure. “Christa’s a talented lawyer who’s played an important role in the development of our financial services litigation team,” says a firm spokesman, adding that Herbert Smith is known for its strength in depth at both the partner and associate levels.
Herbert Smith has 58 litigation partners in London led by practice head Sonya Leydecker, who worked with Band on the BCCI case.
The firm rarely loses disputes partners (only two arbitration partners have moved on in the past two years) and its reputation as a litigation powerhouse will remain. But any other firms looking to hire heavyweight litigators will be heartened to see a chink in Herbert Smith’s armour.