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Byrne and Partners, an independent six-partner boutique specialising in commercial litigation, was founded on high aspirations. “We aren’t yet a name in the marketplace that everyone thinks of first, but that’s what we’re aiming for,” says partner Matthew Frankland. “We want to be the pre-eminent business crime firm, offering real solutions to real problems and adding value to that.” Judging by its progress so far, this is a plausible ambition.
Byrnes has a polished pedigree. In February 2003, almost the whole of Dechert’s criminal, investigations and civil fraud unit left (with its clients in tow) to set up Byrnes. The amicable move was a result of changes to the legal aid system and the fact that Dechert’s litigation team was heading in a different direction to those who created Byrnes. “We left because we couldn’t carry on doing legal aid work at Dechert. As a team, we’re committed to it,” says Frankland. “We have a good, hard-working and driven group and we wanted to stay together.”
As to differences between the group then and now, senior partner Bernard O’Sullivan notes the way that Byrnes is viewed has changed. “When we were at Dechert, we were seen as competition. Now other City firms regard us as people they can trust, knowing we won’t run off with their commercial clients. Effectively, the perception of us has changed but our work has stayed the same.” He adds that he has seen an increase in referral work as Byrnes’ reputation has grown among the firms with which the team used to be in competition. “Now, as a niche firm, we’re seen as a help,” he says.
The team claims a client-focused ethos which seeks to avoid litigation. Frankland says: “Clients need to trust us. We work hard to find a practical solution at an early stage and we try to be really honest with that. The only guarantee we can ever give clients regarding criminal litigation is if they avoid it in the first place. Saying that, though, as a group we haven’t lost a contested jury trial since January 2001, and in 80 per cent of cases we stop them getting to trial in the first place.”
The team is involved in high-profile work, including the continued defence of the former dictator of Nigeria General Sani Abacha over the looting of billions of dollars of public money. Another is for defendants in a Customs & Excise prosecution which spectacularly collapsed, concerning alleged duty evasion in a bonded warehouse, leading to the separation of the Customs arm from that of the prosecution.
Over the last year, the firm has been involved in five cases that were reported at the Court of Appeal. There is little doubt, then, about the calibre of work at Byrnes, and as O’Sullivan concludes: “The work we do is such good fun and a privilege to do.”
Byrne & Partners
Total number of partners
Six, plus three qualified barristers
Total number of lawyers
Main practice areas
Business crime, civil fraud, commercial litigation and regulatory investigations
Legal Services Commission, Reuben Brothers and Sunderland FC