13 December 1999
If talking was an Olympic sport, you could not help but think that Christopher Style, Linklaters' new head of litigation, would be clutching a handful of gold medals by now.
He sits me down in a meeting room on the first floor, whips out his three-point plan for improving the department and then talks about it solidly for the next 40 minutes or so. "I'm worried this may be boring you," he says at one stage. I look blankly at him before replying hesitantly: "Er... yes." This fails to throw Style, who continues to plough on through the plan. He then begins to draw a diagram to explain the differences between the UK's adversarial legal system and the Continent's inquisitorial approach.
You cannot accuse Style of not being thorough, but then what do you expect of one of the City's leading litigators with a track record second to none. What is surprising, however, is how utterly nice he is. One part of his three-point plan is, in effect, to be nicer to clients by stepping up the entertainment side of client care.
He points to a party hosted by the litigation department last week at the London Aquarium and attended by almost all the big City names. "There were all these sharks swimming about," he says, before adding quickly: "There can be no shark jokes allowed in this article."
He goes on to talk about a Court of Appeal judge at the party who asked if any of the large fish swimming past were litigation partners. The thing about Style, I tell him, is that although he may be a leading litigator, he reminds me less of a shark and more of, say, a dolphin, which is a lot cuter and nicer than a shark and altogether more clever.
But do not be misled. Style may talk of alternative dispute resolution, arbitration and negotiation but, despite all the conciliatory words and the outer appearance of a very nice man, inside beats the heart of a deadly litigator.
"The fact is we are hired guns and our clients come to us because they want to win. That is what we are good at and that is what we enjoy. It's true there are many different ways of winning and a really good negotiated solution will be better than five or 10 years of litigation going up to the House of Lords. But ultimately our job is to fight our client's corner as best we can.
"If you are asking me if litigators are now being terribly friendly and cooperative then I am afraid no we are not. We are not, of course, blood-thirsty Rottweilers. They attack anything that moves. I hope we are a lot more selective than that."
Arbitration and the like make up point two of the three-point plan, which involves developing and improving what Style calls "new style litigation skills" and reducing the reliance on outside counsel. Litigators at Linklaters will now be discouraged from paying exorbitant fees to QCs. "It's a question of trying to train people to add value themselves rather than simply act as a buzzbox [for QCs]," he says.
Still, for all his talk of strategies and leadership, it is clearly the scent of blood that keeps Style going. When he takes over the litigation reins in January (Brinsley Nicholson, the incumbent, is returning to fee-earning after seven years in charge of the department), Style is adamant the litigation bit comes first and the organisational bit a distant second.
He says: "I think it's essential that the heads of practice areas should continue to practise and so should retain our involvement with clients and our familiarity with our markets. I certainly intend to spend most of my time on client work.
"The prospect of all these interminable committees is not quite so appealing. Ultimately one can only suck it and see."
Linklaters' international status is a recurring theme. (Indeed the interview is taking place in the Tokyo room, the logic of it being called thus can only be to enhance the international flavour of Linklaters & Alliance.)
The international theme makes up part three of Style's three-point plan and the bit most likely, one suspects, to give him the headaches. "One of the greatest worries is not the English firm's practice but the task of integrating the continental practice. I am sure I need to spend some time overseas where we have litigation and arbitration lawyers, getting to know them and their practices," he says.
This international role could be his greatest challenge. In his 22 years at Linklaters he has only had one assignment overseas - a nine-month stint working for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York. You get the feeling he did not enjoy it there. "It's play hard and work hard," recalls Style, and I cannot help thinking that those Americans may have been just too nasty for such a nice Englishman in New York.
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