Closing the gap

Norton Rose’s global litigation chief Antony Dutton has some big ambitions. He is on a mission to fill gaps in the firm’s litigation practices.

He has his sights set on making the group contribute 20 per cent of the firm’s turnover by 2012. Currently it stands at 12 per cent of overall turnover, the equivalent of £34.8m of £314m.

The practice is split into three key divisions: corporate, banking, regulation, insurance and technology; construction and infrastructure; and energy, international trade and transport.

The plan is to bulk up those practices where necessary. In Hong Kong, for example, Norton Rose has recently appointed Barlow Lyde & Gilbert’s former Hong Kong managing partner Camille Jojo who is bringing with him a group of six associates. Further additions will also be made in Paris while instructions from the Middle East are starting to build up and demand for partners is growing.

The London litigation practice has the largest proportion of partners totalling 20 out of 31.

“London is important and is handling a lot of substantial matters,” Dutton says. “But a lot of work we do is international, it could be arbitration or just acting for clients with multi jurisdictional disputes.”

While the group is aligned to the firm’s key client list Dutton says it has worked hard to build up an independent list of referrers.

“We have to self generate our work so we are not relying on others,” he says. “You can’t rely on transactional colleagues for work.”

Nevertheless he notes there can be issues with conflicts between the litigation and corporate practices.

“The chairman [Stephen Parish] and I work through those issues constructively,” he says. “We do an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist and our wider obligations to them, there could be the possibility of having a conversation with those on the receiving end.”

Where the group finds itself conflicted, work will be referred out to magic circle and international litigation groups. “We would expect them to return that favour,” he says.

The group has seen an upturn in work but, Dutton claims it is not entirely recession related. He explains: “The renaissance started before the credit crunch, our access to key clients has been sustaining our growth and the work they provide is not just credit crunch related.”

He warns: “We don’t want to be reliant on  a bubble in the market, we want our fair share.”

Norton Rose is hardly recession-proof; the firm has received its fair share of requests for lower rates. “Client pressure on costs in considerable, you have to take the broader view of the relationship,” Dutton says adding that the firm will reject work which is economically unviable but would look to make concessions where possible.

Yet Dutton rejects claims that London is in danger of pricing itself out of the international litigation market because it is too expensive. Lord Justice Jackson’s review of litigation costs, he says, is useful although not entirely necessary.

“Why are clients using London law firms?,” he asks.

“These are sophisticated users of legal services they don’t need a High Court judge telling them off for spending too much. They accept the costs they are given. They would give you a very different view of our court processes. They have made an investment in English law and there exposure is substantial. When they are stumping up in court they want the a Rolls Royce service.”