Heroes and Villains

Heroes and Villains
American litigation lawyers are unlikely candidates for hero-status, but when your own government has allowed your pension to go down the pan, all bets are off.

American litigation lawyers are unlikely candidates for hero-status, but when your own government has allowed your pension to go down the pan, all bets are off.

And so it is that US class action firm Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll could reap the PR reward of legal action on behalf of a million Equitable Life policyholders whose pensions have been flushed.

Policyholders’ first victory was when parliamentary ombudsman Ann Abraham held that they are victims of "a decade of regulatory failure", urging the Government to compensate them for losses incurred after Equitable almost collapsed eight years ago.

Whether Cohen Milstein goes ahead is yet to be seen, but unlike the milk debacle of recent months, when the firm was unable to find funding, the million people affected by this campaign have a lot more to gain than those ripped off by their supermarket on their annual milk bill.

Even if some of them have gone to their grave penniless in the meantime.

So are Cohen Milstein the heroes of this tale? Or just vultures come to pick over the bones of other people’s financial disasters? You decide.

Regulating the regulators

In his first interview after taking on the job, David Edmond, former Natwest Group MD, now chair of super-regulator the Legal Services Board (LSB), told The Lawyer that “choosing the right board will be the first step to what I’m expecting will be a world-class agency.”

And with that board now chosen, you can make your own mind up on how he’s done.

Included is former Reuters GC Rosemary Martin, now chief exec of consultancy the Practical Law Company; FSA general counsel Andrew Whittaker; Irwin Mitchell senior partner and former Law Soc president Mike Napier QC, David Wolfe, founder member of Matrix Chambers; and three experts with backgrounds in media, the police and judicial appointments.

Sounds a classy bunch. But between them, the ten have a lot to prove.

Set up as a result of the fiercely contested Legal Services Act, the LSB will cost some £3.9m to set up and won’t be fully operational until Spring 2010.

Not only that, it does not regulate the profession itself, but rather is the regulator of twin regulators the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board.

Already responsible for upping minimum salaries for trainees, launching a new code of conduct, planning to split the LPC in two and gearing up for the Legal Services Act, those bodies have been busy since they started.

So can six lawyers and three business people working one month a year keep them in check? Log on to have your say.

Time is money

“We are in the vanguard of the slowdown,” says Travers Smith managing partner Chris Carroll, one of the law’s most quotable personalities, explaining the firm’s 7.6 per cent drop in PEP from £817,000 to £755,000.

But Carroll was also describing the market as a whole.

Travers and its silver circle rival, Macfarlanes, are more exposed to the M&A slowdown than most, but Travers has the added disadvantage of a June year-end, meaning that its figures include almost 10 months of credit crunch fallout against most firms’ eight.

One of the market’s realists during this period, in January Carroll told The Lawyer that he didn’t “like the look of 2008” – one of a number of instances, when while others have stuck their heads in the sand or vowed to fight the crunch, Carroll has been unafraid to tell it how he sees it.

But as today’s Top of the PEPs blog asks, is sticking it out the best strategy in an increasingly global market place? Or should Travers be taking a leaf out of the book of Lovells or DLA Piper and ramping up overseas? Let us know your thoughts here.

What friends are for

Being good friends with hyper-acquisitive Banco Santander is a relationship worth having, but it can take time to pay dividends.

Just ask Slaughter and May, which is leading the advice for the Spanish bank’s £1.25bn Alliance & Leicester approach, but took an age to get there.

The roots of the relationship lie in another friendship way back in 1993, when Slaughters’ best friend in Spain, Uría Menéndez, acted for Santander on its acquisition of Spanish rival Banesto.

In parallel to the Uría/Santander bonding, Slaughters developed a longstanding friendship with Abbey and in 1996 advised the National & Provincial building society when it merged into Abbey National (as it was then known).

But in 2004 Santander bought Abbey for £8.9bn, and Uría faced coming up against Slaughters on the deal table. Each of the best friends was conflicted, and Uría was forced to pair with Clifford Chance for Santander as a result while Slaughters had to spoon with Spanish firm Perez Llorca for Abbey.

However in 2007, with seemingly every law firm in the world involved or conflicted, all friends were reunited for the RBS consortium’s £49bn ABN Amro bid.

With Abbey under the Santander umbrella, Uría recommended Slaughters act for Santander as part of the consortium.

And finally, yesterday, Santander returned to Slaughters in its bid for Alliance & Leicester. And that’s how good friends are made.

All your questions answered

Doubling your profit is a good result by any standards. But, as The Lawyer reveals today, that’s pretty much what the UK’s top 30 firms have done since 2000. But which firms in the top 30 have come on the fastest this millennium?

Of the top 30 firms in 2000, which have dropped out of the race? Why has the line-up of the top 10 remained pretty much static?

Which firm is the fastest growing after increasing revenues by 310 per cent? Bet you’ll be surprised by that one. And which firm has recorded the slowest growth? You may not be as surprised by that one.

Read today’s top story and leader to find out.