Revealed: the transatlantic firms on the premier litigation mandates

Gross litigation income figures fail to tell the whole story, explains Matt Byrne

David Zornow
David Zornow

Last week (18 October) The Lawyer unveiled the world’s top 50 litigation practices by fee income.

Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom took that particular prize, with a total litigation revenue in 2009 of $879.8m (£549.4m), ­representing some 43 per cent of the firm’s practice.
Indeed, the juggernaut firm has headed the list each year since The Lawyer launched its annual report in 2008. Also fixtures in the top 10 by revenue in the past three years are Jones Day, Reed Smith and Sidley Austin.

None of these three firms, ­however, feature at the top end in either of the more meaningful ­revenue per lawyer (RPL) and ­revenue per partner (RPP) tables. Indeed, Jones Day drops to 48th place in the RPL stakes with a ­figure of $510,000.

When the table is reordered by RPP its inclusions immediately resemble the blue-blood firms that feature prominently in another of The Lawyer’s annual analyses of the global legal market, the Transatlantic Elite.

Nine of the top 10 firms when ranked by RPP are ­members of our Sweet Sixteen grouping. ­Litigation powerhouse Paul Weiss is the only firm from outside this group with enough premier ­litigation capabilities to muscle in.

Sullivan & Cromwell heads the list with an RPP of $8.17m, ­followed by Cravath Swaine & Moore with $7.61m. Paul Weiss is only marginally behind Cravath with $7.32m. The pair swap places for the RPL ranking, while gross revenue leader Skadden drops to fourth on RPP and third on RPL.

At the other end of the top 10 by RPP, Allen & Overy, placed 50th by gross revenue, and only the fifth UK-headquartered firm to make the top 50, secures 10th place with $4.38m.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is the second of two UK firms to make the top 10 with an RPP of $6.38m. In contrast, the UK’s largest firm by litigation revenue, DLA Piper, posted an RPP of just $1.97m, placing it 42nd.

Several firms’ strong performances are reflected by activity across their global networks. Take Skadden. While the US dominates in terms of gross revenue generation, the firm is also significantly strengthening its capabilities in Europe and Asia, both with ­lateral hires and internal resources, reflecting the high levels of cross-border activity.

“Our London litigation and ­arbitration group is possibly the busiest across the global department right now,” says David Zornow, the global head of Skadden’s litigation and controversy practices and head of the New York office’s white-collar crime group.

Zornow says the firm is taking full advantage of its global ­network. A year ago Paul Mitchard QC, who developed Skadden’s arbitration practice in London, moved to Hong Kong to spearhead the growth of the firm’s contentious capabilities in the region.

Next year Mitchard will be joined by Mandarin-speaking ­litigation partner Francis Kao, who is relocating from Chicago and bringing London-based ­associate Kam Nijar in her wake.

The firm is also moving senior associate Calvin Chan, who moved from London to Hong Kong to boost Skadden’s local ­international arbitration and litigation group last year along with counsel
Mark ­Mangan, to Singapore.

“The idea is to match local ­cultures with legal skills,” says Mitchard. “Singapore and Hong Kong are the two major seats in that region and it’s critical to have people there on the ground.”

Skadden has also recently been ramping up in the City to meet the challenge created by the increase in fraud-related matters, hiring former former Serious Fraud Office prosecuter Matthew Cowie over the summer as counsel.

The London disputes practice is still best known for international arbitration and is handling a range of high-profile cases. They include acting for French bank Calyon on litigation relating to the subprime market, Vivendi on its long-running ­arbitration against Deutsche ­Telecom and Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich on his high-profile battle with former business ­partner Boris Berezovsky.

“We’re looking to significantly expand the group because we see a full pipeline of cases for 2011,” says London partner David Kavanagh.

Several other firms also ­currently outside the Sweet ­Sixteen have been scoring some notable litigation wins. Bingham McCutchen, known in the US for its contentious tax, broker dealer and environmental practices, has recently been leveraging its ­reputation for IP litigation.

The firm has fought a series of high-profile battles for technology clients including Sharp, Intel and SanDisk, while next month its ­billion-dollar copyright infringement case for key tech client ­Oracle against SAP is due to go to court in the US.

In Bingham’s London office financial restructuring inevitably features prominently, with London litigation being characterised by bondholder work.

The firm is acting for the ­bondholder litigation committee in a dispute worth more than $15bn involving Icelandic banks Kaupthing, Glitnir and Landsbanki. The case is one of two major pieces of litigation featuring ­rising star partner Natasha Harrison. Last Friday, as reported on (22 October), Harrison won a victory is the ­second case for the bondholders in Polish conglomerate Elektrim.

Revised figures for Bingham to include fee income from these groups (the firm’s original ­submission only reported revenue from its core litigation department) boosts total contentious fee income to 51.1 per cent of total ­revenue, or $439.4m.

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