Stewarts Solicitors is taking on the Americans at aviation litigation.
In August, the litigation boutique shook the industry with the star hire of underwriter Amlin Aviation’s general counsel James Healy-Pratt. He joins Stewarts in December in the newly created role of head of aviation litigation, focusing on advising claimants in aviation accidents.
Managing partner John Cahill explains that Stewarts is looking to model the new practice on the hugely successful US plaintiff aviation firms and that London’s status as a global centre of aviation is just the advantage it needs to take on the US firms.
“Clients understand that European firms would be more interested than American ones in getting European work and doing it in Europe,” he says. “And America is not that liked internationally at the moment, so a European firm might just have an advantage in that respect.”
However, aviation litigation is just one avenue within Stewarts’ ongoing plans to diversify into new markets. The firm’s other new focus is divorce law, headed by partner Stephen Foster.
Foster, a specialist in divorce and family law, was another star hire for the firm. The former head of Lester Aldridge’s family law team joined last year to launch the divorce department.
According to Cahill, the group already see itself as being in “the top dozen firms doing it in England” for divorce work and plans “to go head-to-head with Farrers, Charles Russell and Manches” within three to four years.
Cahill himself came from Herbert Oppenheimer, where he was an assistant in commercial litigation. He founded Stewarts with three other lawyers in 1989, and Cahill confesses that the direction of the firm was not always as clear as it is today.
“Initially our goal was to survive in a recession,” he says. “We set up in a recession and we did what we could to make the business continue, and at a certain point we stopped to think: ’what are we going to do in the future?’”
Cahill ceased full-time commercial litigation advice in 1998 when he was appointed managing partner. It was at that point that he seized the opportunity to refocus the firm, taking the decision to “abandon the non-contentious side and become a niche litigation practice”.
The firm has since opened an office in Leeds in 2004, focusing on PI and clinical negligence work for its expanding Northern client base.
Looking forward, Cahill says he is targeting successes with the new plaintiff aviation and divorce groups, and hopes to crack the £10m turnover barrier by 2010 – the year of the firm’s 21st anniversary.
Total number of lawyers: 30 (plus 20 paralegals)
Main practice areas: Dispute resolution, personal injury, clinical negligence, divorce, aviation
Number of offices: Two (plus five consulting offices)
Location: Leeds and London