Another year of major litigation

Welcome to our first print edition of The Lawyer for 2013: and as always, we kick off the year with our pick of the top cases.

Catrin Griffiths

In the five years we’ve been undertaking this exercise, The Lawyer’s Top 20 Cases has become the essential guide to the biggest and hairiest disputes in the English courts. As anticipatory rather than retrospective research, it’s the only survey of its kind; we canvass opinion from heads of litigation, big-name silks and a host of senior clerks to curate the most representative overview of the litigation landscape.

Last year was dominated by the Russians. The Abramovich-Berezovsky case, which The Lawyer has examined in detail, attracted criticism from many who argued that the English court system was simply the plaything of the rich. In those terms, nothing much has changed this year. The big billionaire case this year is the fight between rice importer Manmohan Varma and Britain’s richest man, steel magnate Lakshimi Mittal. If bar talk last year was dominated by Sumption, this year will be the opportunity for 3 Verulam Buildings’ Paul Lowenstein QC to shine. Mittal’s choice of law firm in Peters & Peters also shows the continuing hold that litigation boutiques – as opposed to enormous international firms – have on contentious work. Furthermore, just as the Abramovich-Berezovsky trial was enlivened (for legal observers at least) by Addleshaw Goddard’s decision to run it on a conditional fee arrangement (CFA), there is another intriguing parallel: the Varma-Mittal fight will see Varma’s lawyers RPC opting for a CFA too.

One notable trend within the top 20 cases is the number of professional negligence actions coming to court this year. London Underground’s claim against Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith will be watched closely, as will the ongoing saga of Rangers and Collyer Bristow and the case arising out of Deloitte’s involvement with the collapse of MG Rover Group.

But that’s not all. As a counterweight to our traditional emphasis on big-ticket litigation, in 2013 we’ll also be focusing a lot on what wealthy law firms are doing pro bono; we want to join up the dots in our litigation coverage and give more airtime to the work being done in this area. I would urge firms and chambers not to be shy about telling us what they’re doing. With access to justice compromised by the Government’s decision to cut funds, now more than ever is the time to be proud of pro bono. A little bit of social conscience can go a long way.