Battlers of Britain
18 June 2012 | Updated: 18 June 2012 8:57 am
The outstanding entries from those vying to be crowned Litigation Team of the Year have provided The Lawyer Awards judges with one of their most difficult tasks to date. By Katy Dowell
Complex, expensive and sensitive - dispute resolution is all three and more. Managing litigation in the post-recession world was never going to be easy, the seven firms that made The Lawyer’s shortlist for Litigation Team of the Year are commended for their ability to manage cases and deliver on client demands.
Bevan Brittan’s got talent
Bevan Brittan has repositioned itself as the firm of choice in the public sector. Last year partner Virginia Cooper led the firm’s litigators to victory in a banking case in Iceland.
While many firms on the shortlist enjoyed the luxury of having substantial legal teams working on international cases, Bevan Brittan’s public sector clients, which are spending taxpayers’ money, are cautious with their legal spend. Their demands are for top-quality advice at competitive prices.
The collapse of the banking system left 145 local authorities across the UK exposed to the effects from the meltdown in Iceland. The authorities had deposited £1.1bn in the failed Icelandic banks and there was no way of knowing whether they could recoup it.
At the time it was a political hot potato, with the then prime minister Gordon Brown wading into the row after Iceland refused to guarantee the return of the money. After the hoo-ha had died down, it emerged that 104 local authorities and universities that held deposits in two Icelandic banks, Landsbanki and Glitnir, were left exposed.
They clubbed together and the Local Government Association instructed Cooper, who assembled a team of five to lead the claim for more than £400m.
The amount that could be recovered from Landsbanki and Glitnir, however, was in doubt after the banks challenged an earlier ruling that creditors of the two banks were considered to have priority status when it came to splitting the assets.
The case was sent to the Supreme Court of Iceland for considerat-ion, where the initial ruling was overturned.
Cooper pointed out at the time: “The prospect of recovering almost all of the money they had with the Icelandic banks will be a huge boost to our clients at a time when many are facing significant budget cuts.”
Because we’re worth itIn July the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that online auction site eBay should be held liable for trademark infringement for instances where it is aware that users are selling counterfeit items via the site. This came following a lengthy legal battle launched by Bristows client L’Oreal.
Until this ruling was delivered, Europe’s position on electronic commerce platforms had not been clear and the area remained untested. The legal expertise needed to formulate arguments in this new area of law was enormous.
It not only required trademark analysis, but also interplay with non-IP regimes, such as distance selling and e-commerce as well as sector-specific cosmetics regulators. Significant expertise was needed in understanding the underlying technological methodologies of internet screening of user-generated content.
On top of this, the team also launched its own investigation into the activities of online traders who were offering unlawful products.
The firm has since been instructed by Samsung in its ’smart phone wars’ case against Apple. This mammoth litigation is being conducted on a global level, with Samsung taking on its rival jurisdiction by jurisdiction.
The UK dispute currently involves six patents, which relate to several complex legal issues. Partner Myles Jelf is leading the team, while the firm is also contributing to the litigation on a global level.
The mighty Quinn
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan is one firm that is used to acting in several jurisdictions. It burst on to the London legal scene in 2008 and has not looked back since.
Most recently the firm has been involved in one of the biggest cases of 2012, instructed for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in the defence of a claim being pursued against him by Israeli businessman Michael Cherney.
The instruction is a clear sign that Quinn Emanuel has come of age in London and is capable of winning substantial mandates from the most demanding of clients.
The firm is demonstrating actively that it delivers value on the most complex of cases. As such the clients keep coming. It is currently instructed by Irish businessman Derek Quinlan on his dispute with the Barclay Brothers over three London hotels - The Connaught, Claridge’s and The Berkeley.
The firm also counts ITV and UniCredit Bank among its clients.
All it takes is one case to elevate the profile of a firm, as Quinn Emanuel can attest to. For litigation boutique SC Andrew that case was against one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood, George Lucas.
Lucas’s five-year pursuit of SC Andrew client Shepperton Design Studios was backed by Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Peter Jackson. At stake was whether Shepperton’s owner Andrew Ainsworth could reproduce the stormtrooper helmets he had designed for a Star Wars movie to be sold as replicas.
The case went to the Supreme Court, where SC Andrew faced the might of former Brick Court Chambers silk Jonathan Sumption QC and two legal teams, one in the US and another in the UK. It was a David-and-Goliath battle that looked specifically at whether the helmets could be considered as sculptures or not. The Supreme Court agreed that the helmets were not sculptures and were therefore not subject to US copyright laws.
Whaling into AHAB
While SC Andrew was prepared to fight to the end, the tactics used by Reed Smith in the mammoth HSBC v Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi Brothers [AHAB] & Ors (2011) put so much pressure on the opponents that their defence collapsed 10 days into the High Court hearing.
The firm was instructed for HSBC, which had claims in the Commercial Court totalling $250m (£161.96m), forming part of the worldwide $9bn litigation against Saudi Arabia-based AHAB, a company owned by one of Saudi’s leading investors, the Algosaibi family.
The disclosure exercise revealed details that undermined dramatically AHAB’s defence. The defence collapsed and, from a position of total denial, AHAB accepted full liability and agreed to pay costs on an indemnity basis.
It was a spectacular victory that, given the global nature of the proceedings, reflects Reed Smith’s innate ability to develop the toughest of cases on a global footing.
War of the world
Likewise, Simmons & Simmons can easily say that it is able to run global cases in a manner that puts the opponents down and leaves them with no place to hide.
After securing a judgment in favour of its client Munib Masri in 2009, Simmons was left with the daunting task of enforcing the decision around the globe.
The groundbreaking Masri v Consolidated Contractors International Company SAL & Another (2005) ran for seven years across 12 jurisdictions, generating 30 judgments in England alone. According to Mr Justice Burton, the case history gives a definitive guide on multijurisdictional enforcement. The case has set precedent after precedent and will have implications for dozens of matters in the High Court and beyond.
This included the creation of new worldwide receivership orders; the use of a receivership order to bind an oversees innocent third party; proceedings in Greece to impose personal liability; the pursuits of claims involving allegations of conspiracy; and contempt of court proceedings in 10 separate counts against the defendants.
Stephenson Harwood was praised for its entry in which it acted for the Tchenguiz Family Trust in claims totalling more than £1bn against failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing Bank.
Together with a related claim, the sums totalled a third of Iceland’s GDP and, until the claims were resolved, Kaupthing’s assets could not be distributed to creditors.
In what is a huge success story for the firm and its client, Kaupthing settled the claims in September 2011.
This was not before major jurisdiction battles in England and Iceland involving a victory before the Commercial Court; appeals from the domestic court and the Reykjavik District Court to the Court of Appeal and the Icelandic Supreme Court; changes to legislation in Iceland as a result of the litigation; international regulatory and criminal investigations; a dawn raid by the SFO; the high-profile arrests of Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz; and judicial review proceedings of, and a subsequent inquiry into, the SFO.
It is a matter very much in the public eye and one that continues to rumble on, posing some difficult questions for the SFO.
Litigation is ever-more international in its nature, making the pressure on those running the cases more intense than ever before. The sums at stake are usually enormous, meaning that the points in dispute will have ramifications for years to come.
All those who made the shortlist are to be congratulated on their standout entries.