Midmarket firms often bandy about the old cliché ‘punching above our weight’, but partners Robert Amsterdam and Dean Peroff regularly take on opposition that larger firms would not dare to touch.
Canadian firm Amsterdam & Peroff remains a two-partner outfit after 26 years, started by the two Ontario law school graduates who shared an interest in international emerging markets and the litigation that inevitably arises out of them.
Amsterdam was famously kicked out of Russia in 2005 for unnamed crimes against the state following his representation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former chief executive of Russian oil giant Yukos, who is now serving time in a Siberian prison.
Peroff spends most of his time in South America, where the firm has been fighting a case in the Guatemalan courts for nine years; a Venezuelan case has been going for a similar length of time.
The pair has had clients murdered in Nigeria and both have been known to retain a bodyguard at certain times.
The duo has not built up the firm in the traditional sense and they operate more as figureheads or case managers, called in to lend their advocacy expertise where others find themselves out of their depth. “We operate in a niche, but it’s an important niche,” says Amsterdam. “We represent companies who want to expand their business into markets beyond the limits of mature markets.
“I enjoy it when the legal and political agendas collide. I don’t divorce the legal issues from the political implications. We don’t just litigate a case, we litigate a corrupt system.”
Refusing to back away from tough cases, Amsterdam & Peroff has now established an office in London, taking a small space near Fleet Street, as the firm moves to broaden its international reach and launch itself into more jurisdictions.
“There are great opportunities here in Europe, Russia and Africa,” said Amsterdam. “I’ve been in emerging markets for an embarrassingly long time, and we’re now looking to do more in Africa.”
They are well aware that business development for such a practice is not an easy task.
“It’s hard to target this type of case. Thankfully we’re fairly well known for international litigation, especially in Canada, and a lot of cases just come to us,” says Amsterdam. “We’re not a volume shop, we have to target the significant cases.
“No firm has a monopoly on talent. The way we operate is we create a virtual firm for a case – we bring in the best talent to staff particular files. It’s why we’ve remained independent, to allow us access to the best talent.
“International companies that go into mass litigation hiring the largest firm or the brand name often miss out on the strategy. Having a good litigation strategy is the key to winning your case.”
Amsterdam and Peroff do not see themselves as crusaders. “We still get paid, it’s still about the money,” Amsterdam admits. “But it’s cause lawyering. It’s ultimately in the best interests of business and human rights to work together.”