Houston's Lanier Law Firm is bullish on international arbitration work, particularly because the plaintiffs firm sees an advantage to handling it on contingency.
The 40-lawyer firm announced that Los Angeles office managing partner Dana Taschner, along with founder Mark Lanier, would lead the four-attorney group.
Taschner says it's not an entirely new arena for Lanier lawyers, who he says have seen an increase in the number of international businesses that would rather not go before an American jury and of clients who want to keep a dispute private to protect their investors or stock price.
Most cases come through word of mouth, frequently from big defense firms that have been conflicted out.
"We're hoping that more and more firms will look at us as a solution for that limited issue -- where they have a client relationship but the client either doesn't desire to [finance] a costly litigation battle, or where they don't have the ability to finance the litigation," Taschner said.
The Lanier Law Firm said it plans to open a London office in 2010 to handle international arbitrations.
Taschner acknowledged that handling arbitration on contingency is a risky way to go, but at least it keeps competition minimal. He said as far as he knew, most firms offered blended billing or other creative alternatives instead. "It's very risky," he said of the contingency model. "That's one of the reasons that most people don't do it."
It's unclear how much work there is to be had. Stephen Susman, partner at Houston-based plaintiff firm Susman Godfrey, said getting the business is easier said than done. Most of the companies engaged in international arbitration that he's seen are well-heeled and unlikely to want to share a percentage of any recovery with lawyers. Those that go for it tend to be smaller, a startup, or have financial problems.
Susman said he could count on one hand the number of international arbitration matters his firm has handled on contingency in the last five years. "My feeling is that it is not as easy as your normal commercial lawsuit to get a plaintiff that wants to proceed on a contingent fee basis."