David Hacking

Sean Farrell meets Lord David Hacking, the founder of Sonnenschein’s London office who is joining Littleton Chambers.

.LORD David Hacking has not recovered from the trauma of the closure of US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal’s London office, which he founded in 1994 before becoming of counsel in 1997.

He says: “I feel a tremendous sadness at the damage they have done to themselves. The London office was succeeding. It brought in £1.5m in income, and on its own work it was breaking even.

“They have done themselves enormous damage because if you are aspiring to be an international firm, as Sonnenschein was, the last place you close an office is London. Any firm that is an international law firm has a London presence.”

Sonnenschein was not Hacking’s first experience with a US firm. From 1975 to 1976 he worked with future US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance at New York practice Simpson Thacher & Bartlett before founding the New York office of Lovell White & King.

In 1981 he joined Richards Butler and “would have stayed there but for the attraction of opening Sonnenschein’s London office”.

Hacking decided to return to the bar where he first qualified, becoming a tenant at Littleton Chambers. He made the decision before the axe fell on Sonnenschein in London.

“The reason I am going back to the bar is because the thing I want to do is to take arbitral appointments, and you don’t look for an English arbitrator at a US law firm,” he says.

Having started out at common law chambers Francis Taylor Building in 1964, Hacking specialised in arbitration from 1976, concentrating on pharmaceutical cases and commercial arbitration.

A source describes Hacking, who has sat in the House of Lords for 28 years, as an “eccentric peer” and the frayed cuffs of his suit give him the slightly worn look of the stereotypical hereditary.

But he is no absent backwoodsman. He pushed through the 1979 Arbitration Bill that overhauled the country’s arbitration laws and contributed to subsequent legislation, and sat on the Lords European Community select committee.

His distaste for the Conservatives’ increasingly hardline stance on the European Union and his other passion, penal policy, made him switch to the Labour benches last year. “I signed my own death warrant,” he says of his decision to vote for the removal of hereditary peers from the Lords.