Eyebrow debate

After recent headlines about Links’ New World strategy, the firm was in the High Court on Monday to defend a prof neg claim from Baltic telecoms company Levicom. Not good timing.

Eyebrow debate29 January, 11.46

After a weekend of headlines following our scoop about Linklaters‘ New World strategy, the firm was in the High Court on Monday to defend a professional negligence claim from Baltic telecoms company Levicom (see story). It wasn’t exactly good timing.

But the firm is certainly ready to put up a fight. According to a mole close to the case, Linklaters’ chosen defendant firm, Clyde & Co, has been “very aggressive” in its dealings with the claimant.

That may not come as a major surprise, but what will raise a few eyebrows is the fact that Linklaters has chosen to defend the claim, one of the largest of its kind at $55m (£39m), in open court.

This is surprising given that most firms would prefer for negligence claims to be dealt with privately so they can settle before any reputational issues are thrown up. A major benefit of this approach is that it prevents other clients from finding out, allowing the firm to avoid a costly rise in professional indemnity insurance.

Linklaters is clearly confident of a win. But, then again, so is Levicom.

To clarify: Levicom is suing Linklaters for $55m in damages relating to advice it received over a dispute with rival telecoms company Tele2 AB. Levicom claims the firm overstated its chances of winning and consequently the dispute went to arbitration instead of settling more favourably at an earlier date.

In Court 66 of the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, Linklaters’ counsel Stephen Moriarty of Fountain Court attempted to steer Levicom senior executive Markus Pederiks through a mountain of documents that outlined the firm’s original advice to Levicom.

Lever arch file after lever arch file was piled before the witness as the defence set about outlining the advice that had been given to Levicom back in early 2001.

So complex was the cross examination that judge Mr Justice Andrew Smith asked several times for questions to be reiterated and clarified. Smith J’s bewilderment at some of the questioning was expressed through his eyebrows, which kept the court entertained with their constant dance.

Not that this should be taken as any indication of his thoughts on the case – the high court judge is well known for his facial contortions and they rarely provide any insight into the course his judgment will follow. According to one senior litigator, Smith J “is the nicest judge in the commercial court” and his expressive nature is well known to barristers who come before him.

It must be catching, though, because when Pederiks was unable to answer questions that were repeatedly put to him, Moriarty turned to his legal team and raised his brows to the ceiling in a theatrical display of dismay.

The defence is said to be relying heavily on the inability of the claimant’s witnesses to answer questions. So far so good. That said, with the case due to last for 20 days, there’s plenty time for them to get their answers sorted out.