‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid? When I’m making big decisions, there’s always fear attached. I try to put the fear aside and say: “What would I do if not afraid?” Last year when Natasha Harrison still ran Boies Schiller Flexner’s (BSF) London office, she revealed her mantra in conversation with Legal Business. When news broke in January that she and the majority of her disputes team were leaving BSF to start a new litigation-only firm, Pallas Partners, such thinking must have been at the front of her mind.
Natasha Harrison has left Boies Schiller to set up a rival firm in the City, with five other partners also departing the firm.
The move will be a massive blow for the US litigation giant’s City ambitions, given Harrison’s reputation as one of the most influential and outspoken law firm leaders as well as a respected litigator.
The new firm will be called Pallas Partners, a source claiming knowledge of the matter told Legal Business.
Partners Tracey Dovaston, Fiona Huntriss, Will Hooker, Neil Pigott and Matt Getz are also leaving Boies Schiller.
Harrison has had various leadership roles since joining BSF from Bingham McCutchen in 2013, including London managing partner, and was also touted as chair elect to succeed David Boies when he retires.
Natasha Harrison was unavailable for comment.
A spokesperson for BSF said in a written statement: ‘We wish our former colleagues well as they embark on the next phase of their careers. As for BSF, we are committed to our London office, which means identifying and bringing in new talent to supplement our existing strengths, but also cultivating a London presence that is better integrated with the firm’s core work and clients.
‘Practices such as international arbitration – which was a strong factor in opening the Milan office – as well as antitrust and competition, and cross-border investigations and white collar defense, will be a significant focus as we grow our UK office in the coming months and years. We will also continue to serve our clients in their litigation before the English courts, and in other jurisdictions that look to English law.’
For more on Natasha Harrison, read her recent Life During Law interview
My maths teacher was married to a criminal barrister, so I did a mini-pupillage at his set. Loved it but decided I didn’t want to do criminal law. Over the years that followed I did more mini-pupillages, including at a commercial set, a common law set, as well as work experiences at law firms, the BBC and Foreign Office. All of which confirmed I wanted to do commercial law.
I really wanted to go down the barrister route, but I was the first person in my family to go into law and I didn’t know any barristers growing up. I had been to Durham rather than Oxbridge and I was a girl.
I’d like to say becoming a lawyer was a very well-thought-out decision in my teenage years, but it wasn’t. I recall taking a career aptitude test at school, and it was one of the few professions I’d actually heard of. Law sounded interesting, and I’ve always enjoyed the legal wrangling in various TV shows. Showing my age, it included the less esoteric ones at the time, like LA Law in the late 80s and early 90s.
I picked Herbert Smith. I applied to a number of places, but I had heard partner Lawrence Collins, now Lord Collins of Mapesbury, speak at a careers event at university. Herbert Smith was well-known as a preeminent litigation firm and so I thought that was where I wanted to go. I wrote to him directly. I didn’t think it would make any difference, but it did. When I started, I was a trainee in his litigation department. I had an opportunity to work with him first hand, and he supported me in the early stages of my career.
If law firms are to survive and thrive, they must dramatically modernise the way they work and serve their clients; they must become more adaptable, flexible and collaborative if they are to prosper. While clients have accelerated and evolved in their respective sectors, the legal industry itself has failed – at best to keep pace – at worst to change in any meaningful way. Either way, law firms remain significantly and meaningfully behind the curve.
Covid-19 may be the disruptor the legal industry has long needed, sparking change and generating the long-awaited revolution. If so, how will these changes manifest? And how do we create the blueprint for the modern law firm?
How we value our services
For many decades, lawyers have valued their services with reference to the number of minutes spent thinking about and working on a matter; time is the value proposition, rather than the outcome. While this may have been effective and acceptable 25 years ago, we have failed to adapt and deliver a true value-based proposition.
The fee model is outdated and increasingly out of step with client needs. The legal profession remains one of the few areas of business that is wedded to charging by the hour, yet the societal shift that is taking place suggests the value of time is increasingly more important than the time spent. It’s about what and how you deliver rather than the quantum of time. This will require law firms to re-think how they deliver value and price their services. Incremental changes are no longer adequate; valuing our services by the hourly rate needs to be abandoned. Rather, we should price by way of the true value we deliver to clients. Just as investment banks price their services on the achieved deal, so should law firms; litigators need to price on outcomes rather than the hours plodding through the process. In this way we will finally be truly aligned with our clients. Let us tear up the rule book.
At Boies Schiller Flexner we spend time listening to our clients’ needs around fees – whether it be certainty, skin in the game or flexibility. We then craft a bespoke menu of fee options specific to the client and matter, designed to ensure our respective interests are aligned.
Rethinking the one-stop law firm
This also chimes with how clients are increasingly using law firms. The one-stop law firm upon which so many firms built their model in the 1990s and 2000s is losing its lustre. Sophisticated clients increasingly unpack legal services to receive the best expertise in different areas. They choose one firm for financing requirements; another for corporate work and yet another for litigation.
This evolution will require law firms to ensure they have the best-in-class lawyers in all of their offerings and be willing to collaborate with other firms as clients cherry-pick the right lawyers to meet their objectives. As a leading litigation firm, Boies Schiller lawyers frequently co-counsel with the corporate, finance and restructuring departments of Magic Circle and leading US firms across the City. This trend is only set to increase.
How we work
Other key changes will happen within law firms themselves, generating a significant cultural and structural shift. Covid is sparking a major re-evaluation. Nearly every lawyer – across all generations – has adapted to working from home and it is unfathomable that we will return to the old order. This means workspaces will need to be completely re-thought; no longer can thousands of square footage dedicated to meeting rooms, in-house dining facilities and individual offices be justified. They are unsustainable economically and will be rejected by lawyers and clients, presenting an opportunity to change the working model.
Post-Covid-19, with heightened reliance on technology-driven services, it will be increasingly important that law firms are lean, nimble and capable of pivoting rapidly to meet changing markets. Huge overheads and real estate footprints will make this far more difficult to achieve.
How we use technology
Technology has shown itself to be a saviour, connecting us to colleagues and clients, enabling work to be executed seamlessly and with relatively little disruption. This has inevitably changed working patterns with people operating flexibly from home. While there will be a continued need for office space and face-to-face meetings, I can see a time when law firms adopt a more flexible model with employees booking desks on days that they need to be in the office. At the click of a button, technology such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom has also dramatically changed the way meetings are conducted across the globe, reducing the need for overseas travel and the world’s carbon footprint in the process. This will continue to be the norm rather than exception. And savings made on real estate can and should be invested in cutting-edge technology in the office and home working.
Many law firms already have innovation departments, implementing artificial intelligence mechanics in research and document assembly, practice management coordination and predictive coding. This will inevitably have an impact on how work is researched, creating efficiencies and an evaluation of what support structures will be needed. As employees become more tech-savvy and self-sufficient, the traditional role of the legal assistant, for example, will need to evolve and diversify.
The drive for efficiency and structural change, better use of technology and the ability to be more fleet of foot in meeting client expectations are just some of the fundamental characteristics that will be the hallmark of the modern law firm.
Sheryl Crow sang, ‘A change would do you good’. That’s never been more true for the legal industry than right now. Creating the blueprint for the modern law firm will be an exciting journey that should be embraced rather than feared. Prepare for the revolution.
Natasha Harrison is co-managing partner and London head of Boies Schiller Flexner
Alex Novarese, Legal Business: Will the UK legal system be more or less trusted post Brexit?
Abhijit Mukhopadhyay, Hinduja Group: As a business, we trust English law and the English courts. Whenever we do business in any part of the world, unless it is in the US, we always go for English law. So long as the courts remain a brand – and they will, irrespective of whether Brexit happens – London will be attractive.
Roughton (pictured) will complement the firm’s international arbitration group in London, following the exit of long-serving Wendy Miles QC who quit for rival US firm Debevoise & Plimpton last month.
The firm has also signed a lease to double its office space moving from its current location in Tower 42 to a 13,000 sq ft location on the top floor of 5 New Street Square.
Experienced in international state-to-state and investor-state disputes, Roughton has acted as counsel in commercial arbitrations under ICC, LCIA, UNCITRAL, SCC, SIAC, JCAA and CIETAC rules.
Boies Schiller managing partner Jonathan Schiller said: ‘International arbitration has been a key area of focus for our firm ever since it was founded 20 years ago, and we have built a record of which we are justifiably proud.
Managing partner for Boies Schiller’s London office, Natasha Harrison, told Legal Business: ‘He’s not a direct replacement [for Miles]. It’s about adding substantial depth to the international disputes practice, particularly in international arbitration. Dominic has an exceptional public international law background which complements our existing commercial arbitration offering.
‘Our strategy for growth is led entirely by client demand. That means finding the right people to meet that demand. Dominic and Matt Getz, recruited last year as part of the global investigations practice, are prime examples of exactly the right people.’
Harrison also indicated that the firm plans to make more partner promotions in London in the near future, after Fiona Huntriss’ promotion last year.
The arrival of Roughton follows the move Kenneth Beale made to Boies Schiller in June 2015, joining from WilmerHale’s arbitration group.
The firm generated £7.6m in the year to October 2015. The UK practice has handled major work for Barclays and M&G Asset Management, as well as acting for bondholders on a high-profile dispute impacting Canary Wharf.
In 2016, Boies Schiller brought a case against the Greek state on behalf of gambling company OPAP, after the state appropriated valuable license rights in the Greek lottery.
Exit terms at Australian firm HSF are notoriously stringent, with the firm recently battling a claim against eight former partners who quit to join White & Case. Court documents from the dispute revealed that former partners cannot join a ‘direct competitor’ within six months of resignation and are also prohibited from practising within ‘restricted areas’ surrounding HSF offices in the same time period.
HSF said New York partner Laurence Shore would lead the global public international law practice with assistance from partner Christian Leathley and partner Andrew Cannon.
Energy giants BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell are among the first corporates to sign up to a pledge for gender equality when selecting arbitrators launched by senior partners at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
The Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge is a call for the international arbitration community to commit to increase the number of women appointed as arbitrators after decades of being dominated by older males.
In 2015, women accounted for just 16% of arbitrator appointments to London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) run arbitrations. Women made up 71 of the 449 appointments last year, with the bulk of those coming from the LCIA itself, as party-appointed arbitrators continued to be male-dominated. Of the 208 appointments made by the parties in dispute, just 7% were women, compared to 28% female-male ratio when selected by the LCIA. Diversity is equally as poor, often worse, among other arbitral centres and often not reported.
A year-long in the making, the pledge is the brainchild of two of the arbitration community’s leading female names, Sylvia Noury of Freshfields and Wendy Miles QC of Boies Schiller. The pair will co-chair a 30-person steering committee overseeing the group’s progress, which includes BP’s assistant general counsel Joanne Cross and ConocoPhillips’ managing counsel Suzana Blades.
The pledge has attracted over 300 signatures since being launched on Friday, with Orange general counsel Isabelle Hautot, General Electric vice president and senior litigation counsel Bradford Berenson and vice chair of the European Central Bank’s review board, Concetta Brescia Morra, all signing up. Crucially, given their increasingly powerful role in determining who hears and decides upon disputes that end up in arbitration, a large number of arbitral institutions have also signed up, including the LCIA, the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration and the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.
The pledge aims to ensure that:
• Committees, governing bodies and conference panels in the field of arbitration include a fair representation of women;
• Lists of potential arbitrators or tribunal chairs provided to or considered by parties, counsel, in-house counsel or otherwise include a fair representation of female candidates;
• States, arbitral institutions and national committees include a fair representation of female candidates on rosters and lists of potential arbitrator appointees;
• Where they have the power to do so, counsel, arbitrators, representatives of corporates, states and arbitral institutions appoint a fair representation of female arbitrators;
• Gender statistics for appointments (split by party and other appointment) are collated and made publicly available; and
• Senior and experienced arbitration practitioners support, mentor/sponsor and encourage women to pursue arbitrator appointments and otherwise enhance their profiles and practice.
Boies, Schiller & Flexner has filed its first office revenues since launching in the City raking in £7.6m through to the end of October 2015.
Having launched its first London base in 2014, the US firm has managed to generate 3% of global revenues that reached $380m. The litigation powerhouse saw gross revenues grow 10% in 2015 from the previous year, with partner profits exceed the $3m mark for the second year straight.
Since its launch into the City, Boies Schiller been instructed by a series of clients and has a few panel wins under its belt including for M&G Asset Management. The office also won the pitch for the high profile Canary Wharf dispute on behalf of Class A1 Noteholders, which includes financial institutions Legal & General and Prudential. It successfully pitched against the likes of Herbert Smith Freehills, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Sidley Austin, Akin Gump and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
London managing partner Natasha Harrison told Legal Business: ‘Over 70% of London office revenue is generated from local clients, with the balance being generated by US clients. For us this is the perfect balance. We are self-funding and profitable, but also connected to the US, and able to serve our US clients on their important international disputes.’
The office comprises 16 fee-earners, including four partners, three counsel and six associates based in London, and last month, the office launched a City investigations practice with the hire of disputes and investigations lawyer Matthew Getz who joined as a partner from Debevoise & Plimpton. This came after Kenneth Beale and Wendy Miles joined from WilmerHale to bulk up the office’s arbitration practice in 2015 and 2014 respectively.
‘We have been focused on growing our international disputes practice in London, and a core part of our strategy is to develop our offering to clients in the international investigations area, including white collar, regulatory and criminal investigations,’ said Harrison. ‘It is all about identifying leading lawyers in their field who can deliver the highest quality of service to our clients. With Matthew on board, we can meet rising client demand for this work, especially in the financial services sector.’
Harrison joined the firm from Bingham McCutchen at the end of 2013 to head the firm’s foray into the London market in 2014. The launch was the firm’s first office outside of the US mainly to service the firm’s major clients including Barclays, which Boies Schiller had been representing over Libor related issues.
Litigation powerhouses Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Boies, Schiller & Flexner, have been selected by hedge funds who purchased bonds issued by India’s Castex Technologies to prepare for a $200m dispute in the English courts.
Quinn Emanuel’s London co-managing partners, Richard East and Sue Prevezer QC, have been enlisted by one group of hedge funds to prepare a case alleging unlawful share manipulation by car parts maker Castex after a steep rise in its share price triggered an ability to swap its bond debt for equity in the ailing company.
Likewise, Boies Schiller’s London managing partner Natasha Harrison has been drafted in to represent another hedge fund that bought Castex bonds in a $200m issue in 2012. Quinn is representing a group of hedge funds who have interests in convertible bonds, known as the 6% group, while Boies is representing a major holder of the 2.5% foreign currency convertible bonds that are set to be converted to equity at the end of September. The two sets of bonds are governed by English law and have an English jurisdiction clause to send disputes to London’s courts.
Castex’s share price on the Bombay Stock Exchange tripled between April and July, potentially allowing the manufacturer to swap the bondholder debt into equity. Its share price has fallen since then.
The bondholders, which have already complained to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the Indian regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), allege that the mandatory conversion of the bonds into equity was carried out by fraudulent means and the right exercised unlawfully.
East told Legal Business: ‘Our clients suspect foul play and we have been instructed to prepare for litigation. There was a huge increase in the stock, which almost tripled, and it all coincided with the mandatory conversion. The stock price has since gone down every day.’
Harrison added: ‘Castex is one of a number of cases we have been instructed on behalf of international investors against Indian listed companies who have failed to implement proper corporate governance, and/or have breached or defaulted upon their foreign currency convertible bonds. It will serve to discourage international investment into India if this type of conduct and lack of corporate governance is allowed to prevail.’