When Eversheds named Ian Gray as its next London litigation chief, many assumed the post was only left vacant because the outgoing boss, John Heaps, wanted to move up the ladder. Almost two years later and Gray has reshaped the practice, brought in some new blood and read the riot act to the bar.
The results can be seen in Eversheds’ financials: at the 2006-07 year-end litigation turnover stood at £64.1m, the equivalent of 18 per cent of overall turnover. At the 2008-09 year end the firm reported litigation turnover of £104m, or 28 per cent of the firm’s overall turnover of £365.9m.
It would be wrong to suggest that this is purely because of the wider economic environment, although this has certainly added a welcome boost. In reality Eversheds was already beginning to add to its litigation weight.
The litigation department was affected by the firm’s April 2008 decision to cut the number of department heads from 10 to four (The Lawyer, 7 April 2008). The litigation practice was divided into four key groups: major financial institutions; real estate litigation; commercial dispute resolution and capital assets, including construction, environment and shipping. Meanwhile, Heaps was set the task of building an international client list to feed a wealth of international lawyers.
According to one Eversheds litigation partner this was met with “some consternation”. The insider says: “There were some very upset people, everything was up in the air for a while. But over the last year or so it’s really taken root and things have got loads better – in the department that is.”
Gray admits that the litigation practice remains London-heavy, but says the firm has added resources to offices in Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Singapore.
“There are good links between India and Singapore,” he says, adding: “The international work will come out of India through Singapore, although that’s not the only reason we’re there. We want to use it as an Asian hub for global business.”
Gray readily accepts that having an international practice is essential for any modern litigation group, with practically every major case being international in scope.
Gray feels that, in order to stay ahead of the game, the practice will have to look again at how its international partners work together- “especially if we want to win our share on the arbitration market”.
Closer to home, Gray has revolutionised how Eversheds’ litigation partners work with the bar. “We’re interested in much closer relationships with the bar,” he says. In March, Gray announced that the firm would reduce the number of sets it would use from 90 to 15 (The Lawyer, 23 March 2009). The move received a mix reception from both partners and the bar.
The rigidity of being forced to use Eversheds’ approved barristers was sniffed at by partners. Yet Gray highlighted that the bar panel would be a flexible tool, which would work to the advantage of Eversheds’ billings. Crucially, partners would not be bound by the panel and could go off piste if necessary.
As for the bar, those who dismissed Gray’s thinking were told that they were peripheral to Eversheds’ needs. Those who were willing to step up were rewarded with instructions.
“The chief execs are delighted,” Gray says. “The only ones who aren’t are those who were on the fringes of what we do. The good sets are pleased because they know the work will come.”
As part of the new deal partners will assess the performance of barristers. “Every six months we’ll meet with chief execs and exchange feedback, review fee levels and the amount of business flowing through,” he explains.
The first phase of Gray’s tenure as litigation chief has been successful. The practice has been boosted by the downturn, but equally the restructure has taken shape. The challenge now is to capitalise on international relations.