Slaughters: litigation talks

Slaughter and May dispute resolution head Richard Clark strongly refutes any suggestion that his group is the poorer relation of the firm’s stellar corporate practice.

Richard Clark
Richard Clark

“Is dispute resolution only a service department?,” he questions rhetorically.

“That’s never been true. We’ve always had many standalone DR clients.”

Slaughter and May is among London’s litigation elite alongside Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Clifford Chance. Yet the firm’s practice is much smaller in terms of partners numbers – it has 11 pure commercial litigation partners compared with Freshfields’ 63 and Clifford Chance’s 74.

“Our teams are, typically, significantly smaller than in other firms,” says Clark.  “We believe that small, focused teams are more effective and economic than unduly large teams of lawyers.”

Like all Slaughters partners, the DR lawyers are expected to be multi-disciplinary to meet the demands of a wide range of clients.  According to Clark, though, the best strategic lawyers are those who have not over specialised. This means that Slaughters lawyers are often working across its four core dispute resolution streams of general commercial litigation; arbitration; regulation and international litigation management.

With such a small dispute resolution partnership, trainees would be right to assume that Slaughters is not for the faint hearted; Slaughters associates would probably have already reached partner status if they were at another firm.

“Like all our competitors we live by our reputation, our results, and the quality of our work, which are good indicators of our success,” says Clark.

The firm has been involved with several high profile cases over the last two years.

The highest profile – and possibly most controversial – was its work for the Government on the nationalisation of Northern Rock. The firm charged £9.6m in fees for advice given over the banks collapse. Yet the publicity surrounding this figure has done little to dent the firm’s reputation. After all, when your opponent brings out the big guns from Slaughter and May, you know they are paying to win.

“The ultimate objective is success for our clients, to be able to deliver the right solution for clients who have corporate-threatening cases,” says Clark. “You also need to ensure that the correct balance is struck between running litigation economically while at the same time ensuring that the strategy is sufficiently comprehensive to do justice to what may be a bet-the-company case.”

According to Clark demands from in-house counsel are evolving. “In our experience, clients don’t simply want large teams of junior lawyers doing DR work,” he says. “Instead, they increasingly want teams that include highly focused and experienced litigators. This is a trend that suits the Slaughter and May approach well, as we’ve always operated on the basis of quality legal advice and adding value for our clients,” he says.

The hourly rate remains an attractive proposition to clients wanting itemised bills, but, says Clark, there needs to be some flexibility, for instance agreeing to give a few hours of free over-the-phone legal advice.

With such a strong team of lawyers backed by a management that demands flexibility, it might be easy to assume that Slaughters wants to move into the advocacy arena.

Not so. Clark says he has admiration and appreciation for the “philosophy and experience” provided by the bar and sees value in its independence.

The firm has a long relationship with One Essex Court, Fountain Court and Brick Court Chambers. For banking work it has a preference for 3 Verulam Buildings, while insurance tends to go to 11 KBW and pensions related instructions to Wilberforce Chambers.

For Slaughters the dispute resolution team is steadily growing. The challenge now is to further support London as a dispute resolution centre and make sure it maintains its competitiveness against the  rest of the world.