3/4 South Square

3/4 South Square's expanding practice is key to its European incursion

It is hard to know what is more surprising: that elements of the publicity-shy bar are making a marketing push into parts of the world – in particular into Europe – that hitherto they have left untouched, or that foreign law firms are shocked that the bar (which they clearly view as not having moved forward much since Temple was populated with knights and student lawyers) can actually put itself about in this way.
However, sets are making mainland European forays, not least insolvency specialist set 3/4 South Square, headed by Michael Crystal QC together with Lord Alexander of Weedon QC, the former making headline news with his representation in Bermuda of Baron Thyssen.
The set's overseas plans are two-pronged. First, within five years it wants relationships with foreign and UK firms that possess overseas offices in mainland Europe's financial centres. Its counsel will provide advice on regulatory, banking and financial product advice, as well as arbitration expertise.
These will not be tie-ups, according to senior practice manager Paul Cooklin, who joined from banking specialist set 3 Verulam Buildings in 2000. “It involves, for example, the local law firm in Warsaw knowing it can turn to 3/4 for advice on banking, insolvency… even accession to the EU,” he says.
Second, it is considering setting up annexes in Europe to provide local assistance to European law firms. 3/4 is at the early stage of marketing itself in Europe, so is openminded about where to establish the annexes. The regions under consideration are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
Clearly, such European entries do not occur overnight. In 2000, 3/4 acquired a senior dual-qualified barrister from 46 Essex Street, Michael Peglow, who has since split his time between the UK and his office in Düsseldorf. At the time, Cooklin said this would be a precursor to the establishment of a German office (The Lawyer, 15 May). However, such a move is still under consideration.
Brick Court Chambers made European inroads some time ago with a Brussels annexe and an association with Polish firm Wardynski & Partners, as did Roger Henderson QC's 2 Harcourt Buildings, which has an association with Brussels-based firm Stanbrook & Henderson. Both sets' Brussels' annexes do European Convention, competition and related work, so 3/4's advisory work will breach new territory.
The set's marketing initiatives are made by its steering committee, comprising three silks and two juniors; internal and administration matters are handled by the executive committee, comprising two silks and two senior-juniors. Cooklin is on both. Marketing costs are taken out of the set's 11 per cent levy on barristers' earnings.
Cooklin says that although the set is comparatively small, with 41 full-time tenants (15 of whom are silks), and four associate members practising mainly arbitration, there is no question that it is overstretching itself. It has a reputation for doing large-scale, quality work and turnover has increased from £12m last year to £15m. He adds that 3/4 is less of a factory compared with other sets, with BCCI, Polly Peck, Maxwell, Bermuda Fire and Marine, Asil Nadir and Atlantic Computers among the more well-known pieces of heavy litigation it has been involved with in recent years.
It carries out a fair amount of fraud, banking, shipping, professional negligence and insurance work, arriving via its dominant insolvency practice, which provides 80 per cent of the set's work. Human rights, also arising out of insolvency, is more recent, with silks William Trower, Stuart Isaacs and Marion Simmons building reputations in this area.
Cooklin says this breadth of work helps to impress on clients the belief that 3/4 is modern, dynamic and has a good understanding of their businesses. Such qualities are vital as it takes strides into the Continental unknown.