Tolaney shines among the new stars

If 2009 was the year Sonia Tolaney rose to prominence then 2010 was the one when she affirmed her position as one of the bar’s brightest stars.

Tolaney was one of 10 barristers featured in last year’s Hot 100 and the only non-silk, after featuring in two of The Lawyer’s top 10 cases of 2009. In both instances she was on the winning side, representing energy company Centrica in its £182m claim against consultancy Accenture, and Nationwide Building Society in its bank charges case against the OFT.

She has also appeared in the Court of Appeal for Deutsche Bank in an appeal brought by Sebastian Holdings relating to losses suffered in foreign exchange and equities trading, and acted for HSBC in a series of test cases.

2010 was no less eventful. “I’ve had another really good year,” she says. “Although it has been pretty frantic.”

Tolaney will feature in two of this year’s top 20 cases. First, she ­continues to advise Centrica in its case against Accenture, in its long-running dispute relating to breached warranty over the British Gas billing system. And the 36 year old is acting on another of the year’s biggest cases too – BACB & Ors v Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Ors. She is being instructed by ­Clifford Chance partner Kelwin Nicholls for one of the claimants, BNP Paribas.

2011 is shaping up to be as frantic as 2010, with Tolaney saying she still has “masses of work from the credit crunch”. She is also being instructed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the Berezovsky litigation against Roman Abramovich in both commercial court action and chancery proceedings.

One of her most intriguing cases will be UBS’s claim against the Italian Region of Lombardy in a dispute over Lombardy’s $1bn (£640m) bond issue. Bank of America Merrill Lynch and UBS filed joint claims in London last year in a bid to pre-empt ­Lombardy suing the banks over claims they hid e95m (£81m) in fees when they sold the region derivatives that adjust payments on the bond in 2002.

Tolaney’s success ties in with that of her chambers, 3 Verulam Buildings, which features in no less 12 of the top 20 cases of 2011. Tolaney believes the set’s success has been on the cards for some time.

She says: “What’s happened is that people like myself and my ­colleagues just above me have been working hard over the past couple of years and building up cases. Now it’s all coming together. Basically, I suppose, we’ve all grown up.

“We said five years ago that we don’t have a Jonathan Sumption, but if we hang on we’ll start to see some good people coming through, and that’s what’s happened.”
The set now boasts the likes of Ali Malek QC – who was appointed head of chambers last year – Ewan McQuater QC, Stephen Phillips QC and Adrian Beltrami QC.

Tolaney is by no means the only lawyer in last year’s Hot 100 to have had an eventful year. For ­SJ Berwin managing partner Rob Day, however, 2010 was eventful for different reasons.
After becoming the firm’s interim leader when Ralph Cohen went on summer sabbatical in 2009, when an election for the top job came up in November it was widely believed Day would be a shoo-in for the role.

The election ultimately exposed deep rifts within the partnership over its prospective tie-up with Proskauer Rose. While Day went on to win, it was by a far narrower margin than expected.
Opposition came in the form of corporate partner Perry Yam, and the closely fought contest soon gave way to accusations of heavy-handed behaviour from Day’s supporters. Adding to Day’s woes, two weeks later the firm’s merger talks with the US firm collapsed, paving the way for another difficult year for the firm.

There were also plenty of high-profile moves. Probably the most surprising was that of Freshfields partner Chris Howard. Having joined Freshfields from Linklaters in 2004, when he became the first associate to move into the firm’s equity, in November he rejoined his former firm.

Another high-profile move was made by Ashurst corporate partner Steven Fox, who left to take up partnership at Clifford Chance, and Rio Tinto managing attorney Leah Cooper, who switched to legal process outsourcing company CPA Global in February.