Focus: The Lawyer Awards – The chosen few

The Lawyer Awards is on the horizon and fast approaching. Here are some of the ones to watch

The Lawyer Awards 2009 is the premier event in the legal calendar. Every year The Lawyer team sifts through the hundreds of entries from firms across all corners of the market, interviewing lawyers and their clients about the year’s highlights. Then, with the help of The Lawyer’s stellar advisory panel, we choose the winners.

This exhaustive process ensures that The Lawyer Awards is the most comprehensive reflection of the current state of the commercial legal market. And despite the current turbulence, there are still plenty of stars.

On Tuesday 23 June around 1,500 of the industry’s leading lawyers will gather in the Great Room of the Grosvenor House Hotel to celebrate their achievements of the year past. Private practitioners, in-house counsel and barristers alike will be waiting on tenterhooks to hear whether The Lawyer has named them as a winner.

There simply is not space enough to cover the full shortlist in any depth, but you can read about a selection of the nominees here, listed in no particular order (so don’t hunt for clues).

To find out the winners you will just have to join us at the Grosvenor later this month.

Regional/National Law Firm of the Year
Hill Dickinson’s recent merger with London firm Middleton Potts has substantially grown the Liverpool-headquartered firm’s City offering and helped it towards its stated aim of being a £100m-turnover firm.

At the same time the firm has moved to modernise its partnership structure, replacing the salaried partnership with a salaried membership, providing that grouping with voting rights and a share in the firm’s profit.

Growth has also been on the ­agenda for HBJ Gateley Wareing. The Anglo-Scottish firm recently opened in Dubai, focusing on ­construction services, while the UK merger with shipping firm
Holmes Hardingham has allowed it to up its ante on the transport front.

Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) has taken massive strides to embrace the changes thrown up by the Legal ­Services Act. RJW, initially known as a trade union firm, now delivers services across the Claims Direct brand (for personal injury compensation), Your Legal Rights (for ­consumers) and 4 Legal Solutions (for business-to-business services).

Also taking advantage of opportunities in a changing market is Northern Irish champion Carson McDowell. It has identified potential areas for expansion beyond its core base. Carson McDowell now has offerings in planning, environment, procurement and energy, while its turnover increased by 145 per cent in the six years to 30 April 2008.

With so many firms scaling back, it is encouraging to hear of Boyes ­Turner’s efforts to launch a major recruitment programme. The firm increased headcount by 23 per cent during a nine-month period in 2008 in order to meet increased client demand.

Rugby-based Brethertons Solicitors, which aims to be one of the UK’s leading regional corporate and private client firms, has implemented a graduated ‘traffic light system’, ­identifying priorities for investment.

Meanwhile, the straight eight years of double-digit growth at Scotland’s Harper McLeod ended last year. But the forecasted 4 per cent growth, helped by the retention of UK household name clients such as InBev, William Hill and Direct Line, is still likely to best many of the firm’s rivals.

Barrister of the Year
Construction silk Stuart Catchpole QC of 39 Essex Street acted on some of the most significant cases of
2008, including representing the ­Buncefield Oil Storage Depot in the Buncefield litigation. Although more than two-thirds of his practice involves litigation, Catchpole is also a keen arbitrator who has acted on arbitrations arising in Dubai, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Jordan and Nigeria.

The silk of choice for the ­Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), ­Fountain Court’s Timothy Dutton QC, made headlines at the end of 2008 when he acted for the SRA in its case against former Beresfords Solicitors partner Jim Beresford, who was struck off for his part in the miners compensation scandal. Dutton did it again for the SRA in February when the Solicitors Disciplinary ­Tribunal suspended three Raleys Solicitors partners for their ­involvement in a similar scheme.

Jonathan Gaisman QC of 7 King’s Bench Walk was instrumental in the team that forced Total counsel Lord Anthony Grabiner QC in Buncefield to first concede on its negligence defence, which it had maintained for two and half years, before also ­conceding on its defence of foreseeability. It was a monumental win for Gaisman, who represented the ­commercial companies in their case against Total and Chevron, joint ­owners of the Buncefield Oil Depot.

Never afraid to take on a challenge, Outer Temple’s Richard Lissack QC has been instructed on some of the toughest cases of the past year. These included going up against Jonathan Sumption QC to represent the National Farmers’ Union in its ­compensation claim against the ­Government over the outbreak in 2007 of Foot and Mouth Disease.

One of the most sought-after ­family barristers in the country, 1 Hare Court’s Nicholas Mostyn, is rightly considered to be head and shoulders above the rest. He is ­currently acting for Ingrid Myerson in her bid to fight off her ex-husband Brian Myerson’s attempts to renegotiate a divorce settlement the couple agreed last February. The first round has gone in her favour, with the appeal judgment expected in July.

Blackstone Chambers’ David ­Pannick QC won permission from the Court of Appeal to take a major case against the Government to the House of Lords last October. The case centered on the Government’s ­decision to use coercive control orders, amounting to virtual house arrest, without offering evidence as to why. A special nine-strong panel has been established to hear the case. Its outcome will determine the future of the UK’s anti-terrorism strategy.

It has also been an exceptional year for Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers. While working on human rights cases such as that of Binyam Mohamed, the UK resident detained in Guantánamo Bay, Rose also forced the Serious Fraud Office to admit that it dropped its investigations into bribes allegedly paid by BAE Systems to secure Saudi arms contracts because of Saudi threats to withdraw intelligence cooperation.

Niche Firm of the Year
Cornwall-based Follett Stock ­underwent radical change when partners Chris Langard and Martin Pearse made the bold move of buying out the firm’s other three partners and transforming it into a litigation boutique in 2007. The move paid off, giving the firm a £2m turnover at the 2007-08 year-end.

Hamilton Pratt has created a strong niche advising on all aspects of franchising since it was established in 2004 by John Pratt, former managing partner at Pinsent Curtis in ­Birmingham. The firm, which counts Dolland & Aitchison and HomeServe among its clients, anticipates a 16 per cent increase in fee income at the 2008-09 year to £1.2m.

Technology media and telecoms firm iLaw had a tremendous year, advising on £1bn of technology transactions. The firm was ­established in 2006 and has already achieved a turnover of £800,000. In September the firm recruited Osborne Clarke’s former managing and senior partner Leslie Perrin to grow its ­commercial litigation ­practice.

It has been a rocky year for many real estate practices, but Maples ­Teesdale has managed to grow its market share, winning Legal & General and Deutsche Bank’s property asset management division as new clients in the past 12 months. The 10-partner firm punches well above its weight with a client list that includes funds managers, ­landowners and banks.

Mayfair firm Milestone International Tax Partners has made a name for itself among lawyers, accountants, tax advisers as well as private banks for advising on international tax law. This niche is subject to ever-changing global laws, and clients such as UBS and CMB Monaco Real Estate are relying on Milestone to keep them ahead of the game.

Stewarts Law posted one of the biggest rises in revenue in the 2007-08 financial year with a 53 per cent jump to £11.3m. The firm reinvested some of that income last year by opening a new office in London, which has attracted some big hitters, including family partners Debbie Chism from Manches and Emma Hatley from Withers.

South East firm TPP Law saw a gap in the market to create a firm focused on PPP in 2001 and has not looked back since. The firm targets smaller projects (under £50m) that cannot afford the rates of larger firms. It has been a strategy that has paid off, with the firm anticipating a turnover of £2m at the 2008-09 year-end.

Assistant Solicitorof the Year
After just seven years with Schillings, associate Matthew Himsworth has carved out an impressive career ­within the firm’s sports practice. Not only has he worked on a number of high-profile libel cases, Himsworth has developed a framework aimed at raising the firm’s brand within the sports industry and has introduced a series of seminars aimed at educating up and coming sports stars about the pitfalls of being in the media ­spotlight.

Pinsent Masons assistant Ayesha James was seconded to HSBC’s ­global banking and markets team in 2007 to cover a period of maternity leave. During her nine months ­placement, James’s advice on a ­number of key transactions led her HSBC bosses to describe her approach to work as “technically excellent”. On her departure she remained in contact with her replacement so that she could minimise any crossover problems for the business.

Samantha Mangwana has a unique role at Russell Jones & ­Walker as business developer and lawyer ­within the firm’s employment team. The firm has said Mangwana has played an “invaluable part of the department’s sustained growth” after developing the team’s marketing skills through a series of coaching sessions. She has also introduced a series of new ­practice initiatives, including a ­venture with the NCT (the National Childbirth Trust) on its Mums Returning to Work Toolkit project, aimed at combating maternity-­related employment problems.

Law firm of the year
The seven firms shortlisted for this category have had an exceptional 12 months, despite having to deal with the ravages of recession.

Ashurst’s year was marked by international expansion at a time when many firms are reassessing their overseas exposure. Launches in Hong Kong and Singapore were coupled with the relocation of former senior partner Geoffrey Green to the former and the hire of Islamic finance expert Abradat Kamalpour to boost the capabilities of the latter. The firm also opened an office in the US.

Berwin Leighton Paisner has also expanded internationally over the past year. A launch in Abu Dhabi was followed by a bold entry into the Moscow legal market, which was achieved with the recruitment of around 70 lawyers from top Russian firm Pepeliaev Goltsblat & Partners.

Moscow was also a hive of activity for CMS Cameron McKenna, which integrated its local office with that of CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre and CMS Hasche Sigle. Managing partner Duncan Weston has made great strides in shaking up the firm, installing a new management board, overhauling the firm’s career structure by adding two new layers of partnership and setting up a dispute resolution group from the ashes of the old insurance practice.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer had another strong year, which kicked off when it reported a record profit at the 2007-08 year-end. After winning a string of recession-led mandates, most notably acting for the Bank of England in relation to the Government’s bank bailout packages, the firm still stands alone among the magic circle in not implementing any widespread layoffs.

For Norton Rose the year was a significant one, as it marked the culmination of a strategy that has seen the firm turn around its fortunes over the past five years. It continued its spate of office launches, opening in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Tokyo, and won some choice instructions, most notably advising Carlsberg on its £7.8bn joint acquisition of Scottish & Newcastle, and HSBC on its £12.5bn rights issue.

The past year has been about strategic development for SJ Berwin. Among the projects undertaken were the introduction of 360° partner assessments and the creation of a pan-European induction programme.

Stephenson Harwood has become a successful and focused firm that has earned the respect of its peers over the past few years. Under the canny management of chief executive Sunil Gadhia, the firm’s financial growth has been exceptional, and the launch of a revitalised associate development programme has helped it foster a culture in which young lawyers thrive.

Partner of the Year
The entries for this award were arguably the best ever this year, as the high-calibre shortlist shows. Hogan & Hartson’s William Curtin is a busy man, splitting his time between London, Paris and New York on standout deals such as Ford’s $2.3bn (£1.44bn) sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors.

Curtin’s energy and skill have even led to him being retained by the opposing party on a number of transactions.

Equally busy is Dewey & LeBoeuf’s peripatetic chairman Steve Davis. Unafraid to make difficult decisions, Davis closed several of the firm’s offices last year, but has also shown his commitment to growth with launches across the Middle East.

Eversheds’ outgoing chief executive David Gray has been inspirational during his time at the helm of the firm, transforming it from a small national outfit into a firm with huge international coverage. When he took over the firm’s management it had 10 UK offices and overseas bases. Now it has 44 offices across the world.

As legal adviser to the UK Treasury, Slaughter and May partner Charles Randell has had an outstanding 12 months. As the UK lurched from one crisis to the next, Randell was constantly on hand to guide the Government through.

Natasha Rees at Forsters has only been a partner for a year, but her reputation goes well before her. As a property litigator she has handled numerous appeals relating to leasehold enfranchisement issues in the Lands Tribunal, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

Taylor Wessing partner Niri Shanmuganathan, who represents publishers, including Associated Newspapers, has defended his clients against claims from a string of celebrities over the years. Over the past year, though, he has been instrumental in running the firm’s graduate recruitment programme and has been responsible for increasing trainee retention rates significantly.

Criminal defence lawyer Brian Spiro of BCL Burton Copeland has had a hugely successful year, defending a range of clients, including Amy Winehouse, Chris Tarrant, Coldplay and George Michael. Away from the celebrity spotlight he has also acted for a number of international corporates and has been the firm’s top biller for the past three years.