Quinn Emanuel now ranks as the third largest litigation practice in the world in terms of revenue, according to The Lawyer’s Global Litigation Top 50, with disputes bringing in $1.088bn in 2014 – 98 per cent of its total turnover.
Its eight-year old London office, co-run by Richard East and Sue Prevezer QC, now accounts for around 2.6 per cent of that total figure, and it has not always been an easy ride.
The firm reported a 33 per cent “bounceback” in the City this spring, with office revenue rising to £26.2m from £19.8m in 2013.
The increase followed a disheartening 28 per cent drop in 2013, and turnover still hasn’t hit its 2012 high of £27.5m, when a number of the firm’s big disputes ended, including the £1bn Rusal and Michael Cherney dispute and major cases for Unicredit and Derek Quinlan.
Such undulations come with the territory of being a litigation-only firm. East said 2014 was characterised by a number of medium-sized cases and no “mega-disputes” reaching a conclusion.
“We started off 2013 with a clean slate – it was a lot like being a start-up again,” he said at the time.
Now mega-cases are certainly back on the agenda, with Prevezer acting for a group of corporate investors including Standard Life, Legal & General, Aviva and Prudential on the £4bn shareholder claim against the Royal Bank of Scotland, alongside partner Martin Davies – although the financial impact will be slow with the case now listed for six months in 2017.
Quinn’s London office has also been instructed by Phones 4U administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers to investigate the conduct of the company’s former directors, and is gearing up to be among one of the first firms to launch a foreign-exchange rigging related claim against a major global bank in the London courts.
Elsewhere in Europe, Quinn is running a colossal securities dispute in the German courts against Volkswagen over emissions software manipulation and representing Fifa in corruption charges in Switzerland. The London team is poised to take on both mandates should either segue into the High Court.
Success so far, Prevezer says, has come from walking the line between bringing mammoth claims against banks and other financial services institutions, which means keeping the firm largely conflict-free, while still maintaining close relationships with big corporates in order to pick up instructions on the defence side of headline commercial disputes.
“We have clients so we have conflicts,” East says. “It would be impossible to run a law firm of our size without them, but the nature of our conflicts is restricted to pure ethical conflicts and not commercial ones because we don’t have a corporate team restricting who we can and can’t sue.”
Of course, a few longstanding client relationships mean “we have a number of big clients we wouldn’t act against”, East continues, such as Samsung. “But when you strip out those commercial concerns we can do seven or eight out of every 10 cases.”
When Quinn is conflicted on a case, it is referred to other firms. It’s a far cry from the early years when almost 100 per cent of the firm’s instructions came from full-service firms referring out their conflict work.
Now those firms might be looking back on the amount of work they referred out to Quinn with a feeling of unease. Quinn’s London office is bigger and more profitable than many of those referral firms, and in some cases Quinn is now among their biggest competitors.
For a firm that started out relying wholly on referrals, the majority of Quinn’s work now comes directly from clients.
“Once you’ve got the relationship it opens you up to all sorts of other disputes work a corporate is facing: arbitration, enforcement issues, general commercial litigation,” East says, recalling his own close relationship with a number of corporate general counsel. “It’s a hugely powerful position to be in now when I think about walking into that serviced office in Covent Garden with Sue in 2008 and saying ‘right, what’s the plan?’”
The firm’s growth into competition litigation and white-collar and fraud disputes is also “putting it on the radar of big corporate clients”, East says, adding the firm is investing heavily in both areas.
“We’re trying to do something quite different in the competition space,” says East. “The market at the moment is divided between the claimant and defendant firms. We’re going to try and play both sides. We think there’s a place in the market for a credible claimant side litigation practice and on the defence side, we think having litigators who knows the claimant game is in a much better position to defend.
“We already have a number of large corporates who have hired us on the defence side on competition claims,” he adds.
This is a clear move by East to set Quinn aside from other litigation boutiques like Hausfeld, Enyo Law, Scott & Scott and Stewarts Law.
“The claimant firms are overstretched on these big cases,” he says. “Their model is get hired, settle as much as you can and get out quickly, and the big defendant firms know this and are playing them at their own game with cases lasting years.”
East also wants to separate Quinn from the group of litigation boutiques that he says have “come up” in Quinn’s wake.
“We created the boutique no-conflict litigation model, and it’s not surprise others have followed it, but we’re different,” he says, citing the firm’s “worldwide presence and capability” and star partner names.
“We haven’t lost a partner in London in eight years,” East says. “We’re a firm built on lateral hires.”
Quinn’s big hires in recent years include DLA Piper partner Nick Marsh, who joined in March to boost its Russian client work from the UK; Herbert Smith Freehills litigation and arbitration specialist Ted Greeno in 2013 and Hausfeld competition partner Boris Bronfentrinker in late 2014.
Quinn is now in “late stage discussions” with two laterals set to come onboard in the New Year. The hires feed in to a simple strategy for the next five years, according to East: “Be bigger, better, faster, harder.”
“We’re ever on the onward push to be more highly regarded,” adds Prevezer, who adds this reputation will come through a continued focus on recruiting “entrepreneurial lawyers who are hungry to go out and build a practice”.
The Lawyer Litigation Top 50 report will be published on 7 December, highlighting the world’s largest litigation practices and the trends driving the market. For more information or to reserve your copy, contact Richard Edwards on 020 7970 4672 or firstname.lastname@example.org