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In the first case of its kind, a UK law firm, SJ Berwin, is preparing a US-style class action on behalf of pension fund investors against an array of US companies hit by corporate scandal.
The firm is working on a contingency fee basis, even though this is barred by the English Law Society. It is doing this by taking advantage of a loophole that allows such fees to be used as long as the cases are handled in conjunction with a US firm. SJ Berwin is working with Washington-based Hagens Berman and all of the litigation will take place in the US.
The SJ Berwin partners handling the work, litigation head Tim Taylor and partner Hilton Mervis, gained their clients by identifying through the US which UK investors lost out as a result of the recent corporate scandals, as reported by The Lawyer last year. They sent letters to the UK investors last October.
Hagens Berman is well known for acting for plaintiffs in class actions and multiparty largescale complex litigation. The firms have previously worked together and formed an informal relationship borne out of the fact that SJ Berwin consultant David Shapiro's son is a partner at the US firm.
The pension fund investors are the first clients to come forward and the firm is seeking to attract more clients with high-value claims. The array of companies on the receiving end of claims are Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Qwest, Bellsmith Corporation, American Express and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
SJ Berwin will receive a share of the damages if its clients win, but nothing in the interim besides disbursements such as air fares and basic expenses.
"British companies are not aware of the ease by which they can address grievances suffered in the US by way of the US contingency fee scheme," said Mervis.