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Court buffs might want to mark their calendars for October. That’s when a major piece of litigation known as the Fruit Shippers’ case is scheduled to go to trial in London. Facing off in this family business dispute will be several of London’s best barristers, including Gordon Pollock of Essex Court Chambers and Lord Grabiner of One Essex Court, two of the city’s most sought-after courtroom advocates. “This could be quite a battle if it goes ahead,” says Robert Ralphs, a senior clerk at One Essex Court. (In barristers’ chambers, clerks play a key administrative role, managing case calendars and often choosing barristers for clients.) What’s as notable as the big names in the case is that these lawyers were brought on board (“instructed,” as the British say) by U.S. law firms. Pollock was tapped by New York-based Coudert Brothers, which represents Maria Elena de Molestina and her sister, who are challenging their brother’s control of the family business. Their brother, Alvaro Noboa Ponton, is represented by New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. Because it’s necessary to have a registered U.K. law office on record once a court proceeding is initiated in England, both firms called on their London offices to hire the best barristers in town. During the last five years, U.S. law firms have increasingly shown up on the record in English lawsuits. A search of major court decisions reported since 1997 lists some two dozen U.S.-based law firms as “instructing” counsel — most in cases filed during the last two years. The U.S. presence has grown as many American firms in London, including White & Case and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of New York and Chicago’s McDermott, Will & Emery, have been expanding their arbitration and dispute resolution practices and bringing on star solicitors and solicitor-advocates from U.K. firms. “U.S. firms are certainly making an impact on the London litigation market,” says Maria Frangeskides, who left London’s Holman Fenwick & Willan in 1998 to head the litigation and arbitration department in Coudert’s London office. According to head clerk Ralphs at One Essex Court, one of the chambers favored by U.S. firms, the annual revenue from American sources has increased dramatically. Two years ago, this niche accounted for 0.5 percent of the chambers’ total revenues. “Now,” says Ralphs, “they account for about 5 percent.” According to London’s Legal Business, gross revenues at One Essex Court average �23 million. Courtroom advocacy is just one service for which U.S. firms retain barristers — and it is the only service that requires a registered U.K. go-between. For all other services, like arbitration or expert opinions on questions of English law, lawyers based in the States or abroad may go directly to a barrister without a middleman. They could also go to the litigation departments of top U.K. firms, like Lovells or Herbert Smith, for most of these noncourtroom services. But that could have a downside. “Many American lawyers prefer going to a barrister, who won’t end up stealing the client,” says David Grief, head clerk at Essex Court Chambers. And, Grief adds, “most American offices in London don’t have enough people to do all their litigation work. It can often be more economical for solicitors to refer work to barristers rather than handle the litigation themselves, as barristers usually charge less per hour than senior solicitors.” Barrister rates average between �500-600 an hour, though junior barristers often charge less. A few top advocates, like Pollock of Essex Court Chambers, bring in as much as �1,000 per hour. So who should U.S. firms go to when they want the best? Barrister choices often hinge upon personal relationships, and British lateral hires typically have their own preferences. For the Fruit Shippers’ case, Frangeskides of Coudert knew immediately that she wanted Pollock, one of the three barristers (including Grabiner of One Essex Court and Jonathan Sumption of Brick Court Chambers) widely considered by London lawyers as the go-to guys for high-stakes courtroom battles. Pollock, 59, is the bad boy of the bunch, known for his abrasive and forceful courtroom style. Grabiner, 57, a member of the House of Lords and the director of the London Court of International Arbitration, takes a more measured and restrained approach. Sumption, 54, author of a definitive history of the 100 Years’ War, is known for his dry and straightforward manner. Because barristers are all solo practitioners, lawyers engage an individual, not a chambers. Still, the best barristers, like Pollock, Grabiner and Sumption, tend to concentrate in a small pool of top-end commercial sets (as chambers are often called). For major litigation in which fees are no object, four chambers — a Magic Circle of barristers — stand out: Brick Court, Essex Court, Fountain Court Chambers and One Essex Court. Brick Court is led by Christopher Clarke, a key player in the insolvency proceedings surrounding the collapse of Barings Bank and counsel to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry panel, which is investigating the 1972 shooting of civil rights marchers by British soldiers. Brick Court receives two or three major assignments a month from lawyers in the States, according to senior clerk Ian Moyler. Most of the work lately has been insurance-related, but matters dealing with antitrust and European Community legal issues are not uncommon. It doesn’t hurt that one of Brick Court’s barristers, Michael Swainston, is a member of the California Bar and sits on the British Bar Council’s International Relations Committee for North America. Brick Court is also home to Sir Sydney Kentridge, 82, a native of South Africa, who has represented Nelson Mandela. An elegant and esteemed elder statesman of the bar, Kentridge is now representing Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel facing the death penalty in Turkey on charges of treason. Kentridge has also been drafted by the Bar Council to lead its response to the Office of Fair Trading report that condemns the bar system as anti-competitive. Essex Court Chambers, home to Pollock and Johnny Veeder, one of London’s best-known arbitrators (who does advocacy work as well), also gets a number of calls directly from the States. Most recently, says head clerk Grief, his barristers have been tapped by the Houston office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw and by LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae in New York. Essex Court Chambers, which takes on a lot of international assignments and arbitration work, is also known as an academic set: Six of its barristers are law professors. Skadden’s Los Angeles-based partner Jeffrey Dasteel has often turned to Essex Court Chambers (in particular to Richard Jacobs there). “For arbitrations we can use barristers or solicitors,” says Dasteel. “But for advocacy it makes sense to use a barrister. Very few solicitor-advocates have the experience of top barristers, who spend their lives in front of judges and have a great feel for the case.” Essex Court Chambers and 20 Essex Street, a slightly smaller set, are generally considered the leading arbitration shops in Britain. Brian Lee, the senior clerk at 20 Essex Street, estimates that in the last two years, at least 30 important arbitration cases have been sent directly to 20 Essex Street from firms across the Atlantic, accounting for about 5 percent of the set’s income. Head of chambers Iain Milligan, a derivatives specialist, and Nicholas Hamblen, a shipping expert, are two of the senior lawyers who handle much of this work. Some work also comes in through Charles Brower, a former White & Case partner, who still serves as special counsel to the firm. Brower has sat for many years as a judge on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, which is still settling disputes arising from the Iranian revolution. While not a qualified barrister, he works as a member of 20 Essex Street’s arbitration team. So far, U.K. chambers have lagged behind law firms in marketing. But sets are picking up their efforts, having realized that U.S. law firms are a lucrative source of referrals. Coudert’s Frangeskides has already been invited to a few receptions and promotions arranged by sets of chambers. “I’ve noticed that some of the top chambers are specifically targeting American firms now as a future source of work,” she says. And 20 Essex Street is one of them. “We do court U.S. firms, as there is certainly a market emerging,” says head clerk Lee. “I expect U.S. firms to be instructing us a lot more in the commercial court in the next few years. It’s certainly a market we want a piece of.” Richard Freeland is deputy editor of The Legal 500, a leading guide to U.K. lawyers, and editor of the guide’s section on the bar. He is also a contributor toLegal Business magazine. Related chart: The Top 20 Chambers in the U.K. Ranked by Revenue

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