Litigators, transparency and success

Catrin Griffiths

The Lawyer’s annual report into the top 50 firms for global litigation is eagerly awaited by those with ambitions to grow their contentious business.

It’s clear who the winners have been. Freshfields was 27th in the rankings in 2008; now it’s 15th, with disputes representing more than a quarter of total turnover. Norton Rose Fulbright’s mergers have inevitably propelled it up the table. Five years ago, legacy Norton Rose did not feature in the top 50 at all. Now it’s 24th. 

There’s less good news for three US firms on the list. Latham & Watkins, O’Melveny & Myers and Mayer Brown have seen their market share drop markedly over five years.

But this isn’t just about private practice. From this year, the Global Litigation 50 will be a must-read for in-house lawyers too. While the rankings give an at-a-glance indication of market share, our research for the 2013 report takes the client angle. Not only have we surveyed top in-house litigation lawyers about what they want, we’ve also asked private practice firms to provide information on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs).

As Microsoft deputy general counsel for litigation and antitrust David Howard tells us, his company has had a target of using some type of AFA in 90 per cent of new cases. 

That goal has been met. In-house lawyers who are thinking of different ways of managing litigation will, I suspect, be interested in seeing which firms are offering novel fee deals.

Rather tragically, there is a consistent lack of transparency at white-shoe firms in terms of fee innovation. More fool them. It immediately plays into the hands of those firms that are willing to speak about fee structures, notably Quinn Emanuel and Boies Schiller but also a large number of defendant firms. 

Quinn Emanuel, by the way, has rocketed up the rankings. In 2008 its litigation revenue was $385m, putting it joint 21st in the global table. In five years, business has grown 117 per cent to $835.5m and it is now the fifth-biggest litigation practice in the world. That is an unrivalled capture of market share.

In a world where companies want to minimise litigation spend, then, those firms that are happy to go on the record about fee structures are exceptionally well placed. Building a brand for dispute resolution goes hand in hand with a reputation for transparency and innovation.

To purchase the full report, visit or call Craig Belson on 020 7943 8049