“TMT? What’s that?” a Clifford Chance banking partner asked at one of this year’s Christmas parties (technology, media and telecoms, if you were wondering). As Clifford Chance banking lawyers tend to be tapped into market activity, it was assumed the question was ironic. But he had a point.

Take TMT initial public offerings (IPOs). In 2001, only one technology company – Marlborough Stirling – floated on London’s TechMark, compared with 49 in 2000. Dechert, the company’s adviser, emerged as the only firm to advise a technology pureplay on a float this year.

Law firms have been kept busier by technology companies reissuing shares, with Linklaters in prime position. In 2001, there was £992bn of new money raised, compared with £4,777bn in 2000. The largest chunk of the new money came from rights issues by BT and Vodafone, which raised nearly £10bn between them. Linklaters scooped both.

“For the leading financial and commercial centre of Europe to house its world leader commercial court in its present premises represents an unacceptable annual balance sheet mentality”
Mr Justice Colman, 5 February

Some TMT lawyers have been busy moving to new firms. The new buzzword to emerge, bizarrely enough, is ‘accountancy-tied’. In March, KLegal scooped BT’s head of legal Alan Whitfield; the accountancy law firm then nabbed Tarlo Lyons IT specialist Michael Sinclair in September; Landwell picked up Tarlo Lyons IT partner Robert Carolina in November; meanwhile, Bird & Bird ecommerce head Graham Defries decamped to Weil Gotshal & Manges in October; and Tarlo Lyons head of digital media Andrew Rigby moved to Addleshaw Booth & Co.

In the media world, the Hamiltons, Private Eye and Bruce Grobbelaar kept some libel lawyers busy. In August, the Hamiltons instructed small white collar crime firm Harkavys to represent them in a libel action against a woman who unsuccessfully accused them of sexual abuse.

Neil Hamilton owed his old firm Crockers (now part of Farrers) £400,000 in unpaid fees from his unsuccessful libel action against Mohamed Al Fayed at the time. Due to the debt, the Hamiltons turned to Harkavys partner Michael Coleman, who had also helped out Neil’s friend and former colleague Jonathan Aitken. Coleman retired in the autumn aged 45, but the libel action is still progressing at Harkavys.

But the headlines the Hamiltons generated only masked the grim reality many libel firms have faced this year.

In November, defendant firm and former main adviser to Mirror Group Newspapers Swepstone Walsh was forced to shut its doors following a number of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal decisions against it. The judgments forced Swepstones’ insurance premiums up too high for a firm reliant on defendant libel work.

In early December, the intellectual property (IP) half of IP and defendant defamation boutique H2O decamped to KLegal. The media partners want to keep H2O alive, but as one of them told The Lawyer: “Defamation work is a small market.”

One firm that has had a healthy year is Davenport Lyons, the main external adviser to Express Newspapers and Private Eye. In November, the firm won the Eye’s first successful libel action in 16 years. Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners was on the losing side, even after trying to settle the case by asking Private Eye to pay its £250,000 fees. “Justice? Where’s that?” was the question on editor Ian Hislop’s lips at the time.

Naomi Rovnick