Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has emerged as the most active law firm in the English courts in 2016, recording 173 days in court representing clients in 26 cases according to The Lawyer Court Rankings 2016.

The magic circle firm spent 62 of these days in the Technology and Construction Court, successfully representing former BP subsidiary Equion Energia in a class action brought by Colombian farmers. The dispute centred on the environmental damage caused by the construction of the Ocensa oil pipeline in the mid-1990s.

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Pinsent Masons takes second place after spending 164 days working on 44 cases; 45 of these days were spent advising infrastructure support company Amey in a dispute with Cumbria County Council, which was also heard in the Technology and Construction Court.

Third-placed Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) made 159 appearances across 51 cases. The firm’s longest case was spent in the Chancery Court successfully advising Goldman Sachs in a 30-day dispute with The Libyan Investment Authority.

While many law firms will be advising on disputes that settle, or on confidential arbitrations, the activity level in court is a strong indication of how busy a firm’s litigation practice is. Accordingly, The Lawyer’s Court Rankings 2016 showcases those firms battling on disputes with the highest possible stakes.

The Lawyer Court Rankings 2016 is based on recorded judgments tracked in The Lawyer Litigation Tracker, a live database of more than 6,000 recorded judgments in English and Singaporean courts.

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Also heavily active in 2016 were Leigh Day and DAC Beachcroft. The former spent 148 days in court advising on 42 cases, while the latter spent 133 days on 45 cases.

Sixth-placed Clyde & Co spent 126 days in court. Meanwhile, seventh-placed Hogan Lovells was the only other firm to attain more than 100 case days. The firm made 104 appearances working across 38 cases.

Eighth-placed Slater & Gordon made 97 appearances across 29 cases, while Holman Fenwick Willan is ranked in ninth place with 95 appearances across 26 cases. Bird & Bird completes the top ten with 90 days spent advising clients in 20 cases.

Some 1,148 firms made 4,713 appearances across 2,463 cases last year.

The Lawyer Court Rankings 2016 also recorded which firms were involved in the largest number of cases. Clyde & Co leads the field here, having advised on 56 cases, while Herbert Smith Freehills advised clients in 51 cases.

DAC Beachcroft advised on the third highest number of cases, spending its 133 days acting on 45 cases. Pinsent Masons and immigration specialist Duncan Lewis both acted on 44.

Irwin Mitchell, which advised clients in 43 cases spanning 69 days, while Leigh Day spent its 148 days in court advising on 42 cases. Eversheds advised on 40 cases across 62 days.

Many primarily commercial litigation firms doubled their days in court in 2016. They include: Debevoise & Plimpton, which in 2016 had a 32-day case in the Chancery division; Mishcon de Reya, which advised 17 cases in 2016 compared to two in 2015, including a 23-day case in the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT). Osborne Clarke advised on five cases in 2015 compared to 12 in 2016, which led to a major increase in case days; Walker Morris advised on a 15-day case in the Chancery division in October 2016; TLT acted on two substantial cases in the Queen’s Bench Division (QBD), one a 10-day hearing in November and the other over eight days in June.

Gibson Dunn & Crutcher acted on a 27-day case in the Commercial Court in March. Fieldfisher’s longest case was a seven-day hearing in the QBD in July, but its case days were also affected by advising on 22 cases in 2016 compared to 13 in 2015. Thomas Cooper advised on an 11-day case in the Commercial Court in July, while Burges Salmon represented clients in a clutch of long-running cases variously lasting 10, 15 and 23 days. Two were in Chancery and a third was in the TCC. Dentons advised on a 10-day case and one lasting 38 days.

Sharpe Pritchard’s hearing days jumped after advising on 26 cases in 2016 in comparison to 12 in 2015, while Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton advised on a 14-day case in October 2016 in the Chancery Division.

On the claimant side, Leigh Day and Slater & Gordon plus smaller regional outfits such as Shulmans and Lupton Fawcett also doubled their time in court, while fraud defence specialists such as Byrne & Partners, Simons Muirhead & Burton and Hickman & Rose also saw a marked uplift in case days in 2016. Byrne & Partners acted in Republic of Djibouti & Ors v Boreh & Ors, a 27-day case in the Commercial Court in March; Simons Muirhead increased their number of cases from eight in 2015 to 14 in 2016. Similarly, Hickman & Rose advised on one case in court in 2015 while in 2016 it had eight, including a nine-day hearing in July in QBD.

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This scatter graph plots the number of cases and the number of case days attributable to each firm across the 14 courts covered for this research in 2016. 

It only includes firms that worked on more than 15 cases last year. Clyde & Co worked on the most cases while Freshfields notched up the most case days. 

The full report of The Lawyer Court Rankings 2016 is available to purchase. Contact Richard Edwards or 020 7970 4672.