Over the summer The Lawyer surveyed the top offshore firms about their litigation practices, strategy, and use of technology. What emerged most clearly is that litigation and general contentious work is big business for offshore firms. To take just a handful of examples, litigation represents around half the turnover at Collas Crill and Campbells, while at Appleby, Bedell Cristin and Harneys it accounts for between a quarter and a third of total billings.
The firms surveyed are reaping the benefits of strong court reputations and strong legal infrastructure in offshore jurisdictions. Conversely, global clients’ reported desire to avoid court proceedings in Russia and the CIS, India, the Middle East, Africa (particularly Nigeria) and Cyprus is also profiting the market. One firm reported a growing avoidance by clients of proceedings in Hong Kong because of growing delays in resolving disputes.
The largest firms by number of litigators tend to be those with roots in the Caribbean. Top of the table is Walkers, with 23 contentious partners in total, followed by Appleby with 17. Carey Olsen has 16, Harneys 15 and Conyers Dill & Pearman has 14. It should be noted that Mourant Ozannes and Maples & Calder did not submit their data and so are not included in these results.
The jurisdiction that houses the largest number of contentious partners of the 13 offshore firms that responded to the survey is Cayman Islands with 23 per cent of the total. Jersey houses 17 per cent and Guernsey 15 per cent.
With 23 partners, Walkers is the largest offshore firm in litigation, covering nine jurisdictions: Cayman, BVI, Hong Kong, Guernsey, Jersey, Bermuda, Singapore, London and Ireland. Its three-strong Guernsey practice derives from the 2016 merger with local boutique AO Hall. The firm reports that it is benefiting from an increase in minority shareholder activism in Asia, particularly in the context of take-private transactions.
Top predictions from offshore firms
“We are likely to see an increase in dispute activity from the implementation of Brexit where parties are looking to terminate contracts or reinterpret them in light of Brexit consequences. We also envisage that we will see growth in the areas of cyber security, data protection disputes, Blockchain technology and trustee fiduciary litigation.”
“Insolvency work will increase as interest rates are likely to rise (albeit slowly) over time from Q1 2018.”
“We expect to see continued growth in insolvency-related matters globally, as well as more large-scale frauds being unearthed in Latin America as investigatory work and economic distress uncovers them.”
“We expect the Hong Kong market – both in terms of BVI and Cayman matters – to continue to grow, and we anticipate increasing our market share there.”
“The Jersey Royal Court continues to be exceptionally strong, particularly in relation to high-value and complex trusts disputes, as shown by the recent case of the Representation of Y Trust and Z Trust, in which we represented a family that successfully applied for variations to trust documents to allow the children of same sex relationships and those born out of wedlock to benefit from two substantial trusts.”
“There will be an increase in applications brought under Cape Town Convention before the Irish Commercial Court in the next one to two years, as the market responds to the Irish Courts’ now proven ability to deliver quality judgments in this area.”
“Asian minority shareholder activism is likely to continue in the short to medium term and may thereafter drop off as either the take-private market falls away or investors / corporates elect to effect take-private transactions in a way that leaves them less exposed to shareholder activism.”
While Appleby’s practice is concentrated on Cayman (five partners) and Bermuda (four partners), in June 2016 the firm also launched a dedicated Mauritian dispute resolution team consisting of five lawyers focusing primarily on disputes work. More generally, says Appleby litigation head Andrew Bolton, “we’ve seen an increase in corporate litigation coming from Hong Kong, China and Asia more widely and in particular shareholder, merger disputes and contested takeovers.”
Carey Olsen has 16 litigation partners, six of whom are in Guernsey and six in Jersey. In October 2016 it increased its global contentious reach when it opened in Hong Kong, relocating Cayman partner Michael Makridakis.
While Harneys has a total of seven partners across Bermuda, BVI and Cayman, the firm has noticeably been investing in contentious capability further afield; it now has four litigation partners in Hong Kong and four in London, giving it a global total of 15. It recently recruited lawyers from Quadrant Chambers, Linklaters and New Street Square. The firm has seen a rise in ‘fair value’ disputes in Cayman in particular, as well as an increase in Latin American and CIS-based shareholder disputes against a background of alleged fraud. However, the prevalence of fund collapses triggered by fraud appears to have tailed off with the conclusion of Primeo and Saad.
Source: The Lawyer