Going East

As the likes of Allen & Overy and Norton Rose set out ambitious litigation growth plans, Herbert Smith is busy consolidating.

Global litigation head Sonya Leydecker is keen to emphasize just how important a cross-border litigation practice is to the firm. “We say it’s an international practice not a London office,” she says, on message as always. “You need everyone aiming in the same direction.”

London remains the firm’s busiest litigation practice, with the 58 partners based in the City producing revenues of £120.6m. The global practice as a whole had a strong year with revenues standing at £163m, eight per cent above the £151m reported at the 2007-08 year end. This is the equivalent of 37 per cent of the overall £444m turnover figure.

However, Leydecker says it is the partners based in South East Asia and the Middle East who are riding a wave of litigation and arbitration.

“Asia is frantic,” she says explaining that Hong Kong has seen a significant upturn in contentious regulatory work and that in Japan intellectual property instructions “have also gone up significantly”. Tokyo and Shanghai are also experiencing an upswing, too.

“To get the big ticket international work you have to demonstrate you have the team,” Leydecker says. The firm is trying to build on its litigation presence in international offices. This began in January with the   relocation of dispute resolution partner Nicholas Peacock to the Singapore office.

A further boost came this week when it was announced that the firm would expand its China arbitration practice by relocating partner Justin D’Agostino to Hong Kong from London. Meanwhile, senior associate May Tai who is moving to the Shanghai office (The Lawyer, 2 September).

The Beijing office will be bolstered by the hire of senior consultant Patrick Zheng, an arbitration expert who has worked with the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) for eight years. He will be joined by senior associate Damien McDonald who is to transfer to Beijing from Shanghai.

The rise in international arbitration, says Leydecker, is not unique to Asia.

Litigation partner Craig Shepherd moved to Dubai from London in 2007 having previously headed Herbert Smith’s construction and arbitration practice in Hong Kong The Lawyer, (27 April 2007). Shepherd was the lone litigator in the office until last month when litigation partner Stuart Paterson joined him (The Lawyer,21 August).

“There is a lot more arbitration. We’ve set up in the Middle East and have been sending partners out there,” Leydecker says, hinting that Paterson many not be the last to relocate to Dubai.

“We’ve got a global brand and you need interaction between all the offices and to have the people moving between them,” comments Leydecker. “It is very important to have the same client approach across the world. We’ve got lots of people moving overseas and some coming back to London.”

The recession has kick started the litigation gravy train, yet any talk of a fee hike bonanza would be wide of the mark. According to Leydecker clients of all shapes and sizes have been asking the firm to “share the pain” of the recession.

“There is a scramble to find alternative payment structures,” she reflects. “It is part of the background discussions with clients. Nobody yet has found a solution.”

As London’s pre-eminent litigation practice Herbert Smith has a reputation which will earn it a wealth of new instructions. It is down to management to make sure partners are well placed and have the right international experience to cope with their growing workload.