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The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is trawling through 350 applications by barristers for membership of a pool of additional counsel for its fraud investigations and prosecutions.
The applications are in response to letters from the SFO's director, Rosalind Wright, to the head of every set in the country asking them to submit details of counsel prepared to work with the SFO. The office deals only with fraud cases estimated to be worth at least £1m and which are likely to lead to national publicity. Wright told The Lawyer that she wanted more barristers at all levels of seniority experienced in large-scale fraud prosecutions for the Crown Prosecution Service and Customs & Excise. She said the new barristers would supplement the regular briefs who, as SFO counsel, uniquely have the dual role of investigation adviser, having been instructed early on in a case, as well as prosecution advocate. As investigation advisers they are consulted on areas such as admissibility instructions to experts, international letters of request, extradition and human rights. Wright said the additional barristers would be "intimately involved" as part of the case team. The SFO also consults counsel on the volume of work expected on a case and the costs. "We don't have many trials so we can't expect to instruct that many in one year," Wright said. "We instruct leaders and senior juniors, and in some cases we just instruct juniors. Sometimes we give cases to junior juniors who do a lot of the donkey work, of which there is a lot in fraud cases." Additional counsel may be engaged as a prosecution proceeds and all successful applicants will have to prioritise SFO work. The SFO's 2000-2001 report, published last Thursday, states that, as part of its public service agreement, it has to increase its caseload of 80 in March 2001 to 110 by March 2004. In addition, investigations and prosecutions need to be shortened by six months by March 2004. Last year the SFO carried out 24 prosecutions, three times the number in 1999.