Essex Court Chambers has an outstanding and long-standing reputation in the
international arbitration field. Over the past 18 months the set has significantly expanded its reach into the growing market of fraud, financial crime and offshore work.
It has also strengthened its leading position in commercial litigation and arbitration, while embracing a shift in leadership and innovation in marketing, strategy and social responsibility.
“We’re always pushing,” says senior clerk David Grief. “Until 2012 we weren’t out there getting work, but the excellent standing of members is not always enough now; one has to push a bit more.”
In the past year the set has fielded silks and juniors on a legally unprecedented arbitration against the Kurdistan Government; an $800m commercial dispute over the liability for pollution of US rivers; and the complex enforcement run of cases related to Yukos v Russian Federation – the largest scale asset tracing and enforcement process ever undertaken.
“We’ve been famed for international arbitration and our work in commercial courts, but in the world of fraud and asset tracing, which has dramatically increased in profile, we wanted to push ourselves instead of taking a drip, drip approach,” says Grief.
In Dana Gas v the Kurdistan Government, current and former heads of chambers battled each other in both arbitration centres and courtrooms over the exploitation of gas fields in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The case was fought amid a desperate climate of the refugee crisis and the war against ISIL in the region, putting intense pressure on both parties to find a resolution.
Meanwhile, the Yukos v Russian Federation case exemplifies the chambers’ progression into the complex world of international fraud. Members have been instructed by the former majority shareholders of Yukos against the Russian state in relation to the enforcement of a $50bn arbitration – the largest in history.
In the clerks’ room, Joe Ferrigno was promoted to joint senior clerk alongside bar stalwart Grief last year. Together the pair boast almost 80 years of experience of clerking and have seen the set grow and develop into a magic circle chambers in the course of their careers.
The clerks take a bespoke approach to billing, adapting fees to consider a client’s fiscal position and implementing hybrid conditional fee agreements (CFAs), staged payments, arranging third-party funding and assisting clients with recommendations for ATE insurance to soften the blow of costly litigation.
Grief says the set “moves with the market” on billing. “We don’t do a lot of no win, no fee, but there are always ways of dealing with partial CFAs. We also work a lot with funders and never say no to anything – we’re always there to talk different options through.
“Flexibility is the name of the game,” he adds, “we have to be as competitive as possible and are always very aware of clients’ needs.”
The chambers’ turnover has been rising steadily since 2011, growing by around 10 per cent a year up to £63m last year – an increase of 33 per cent over four years.
“The strong financials are attributable to the quality of members and the work we get,” says Grief. “We have a fantastic client base and it’s great to be joint with Joe because there’s two heads and he comes up with a lot of ideas. Our experience means we can guide the juniors when they’re coming in. We feel like we’ve seen a lot – we make a plan and policy and it’s all working quite well,” he adds.
Grief says the chambers “fights very hard for work for the juniors” because “we want them to have the best possible chance to get on their feet at an early stage”.
The set also works with the Social Mobility Foundation to support people from different social backgrounds move towards a career at the bar and has made major strides in this area, boosting its presence in the African market, particularly related to housing visiting lawyers from Africa.
“We have lawyers from the whole African market coming to London and spending time with chambers and sitting in court, learning how silks work on a daily basis,” Grief says. “These are lawyers that have been given the opportunity by their country to get out there and do it and I’m very glad we can help expand their profile.”
The judges say Essex Court has worked on “interesting and complex cases” over the past year and has an “impressive reputation” of being both “creative and sensitive on fee issues”.
One judge adds that the chambers showed “good business development initiatives, including internationally, which have led to good growth in fees”. The set also has a “commendable commitment to social mobility initiatives”.