The fast-growing collective action market has become still larger with the launch of specialist Australian law firm Phi Finney McDonald (PFM) in London.
Headed in the UK by Chris Haan, who until last year worked on group litigation at Leigh Day, the firm combines both commercial litigation – particularly securities cases – and public interest litigation in areas like institutional abuse, product liability and data protection and privacy.
PFM was set up in 2017 by three senior lawyers from Slater & Gordon in Australia; Odette McDonald spent a year shortly before then heading up the group litigation team at Slater & Gordon in London and will be working from PFM in London periodically.
Mr Haan, who qualified in Australia before moving to the UK in 2009, said the founders’ experience of England and Wales led them to believe there was a gap in the market for their skills, particularly in securities litigation.
Though supported from Australia, PFM is looking to recruit litigators in London. Mr Haan described the Australian and English litigation and legal cultures as “very similar”.
The firm said its repeat clients included some of the largest and most influential pension schemes, private investors, sovereign wealth funds, and investment platforms across the Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.
Mr Haan said: “We will distinguish ourselves in London through our use of technology and innovative litigation funding structures, offering clients higher quality, more efficient and cost-effective legal services.”
He explained: “It’s about using technology to reduce the cost and increase efficiency of group actions and negotiating in some cases unique arrangements for how they are funded.”
In Australia, funders often take as much as 40% of damages, he said, but in one recent case PFM has been able to reduce it to 10%.
There has been a growing number of specialist group actions law firms from other countries moving into England and Wales. Hausfeld blazed a trail in 2009 but has been joined more recently by the likes of Milberg, Keller Lenkner and what is now called PGMBM.
Meanwhile, earlier this week the European Parliament authorised the Collective Redress Directive, which will allow consumers across the EU to bring class actions.
Member states will soon be given two years to implement the directive into domestic law and then there will be a further six month period to apply it, meaning claims can be initiated from late 2022. Claimant lawyers and funders can start building their cases before then, however.
J-P Douglas-Henry, global co-chair of litigation & regulatory at DLA Piper, described the directive as a “landmark”.
He explained: “It creates a pan-European system for collective proceedings for a range of matters from data protection to airline rights to financial services. For much of Europe, these types of proceedings are entirely new…
“The fact that this directive will not necessarily apply to UK businesses post-Brexit does not eliminate the risk for UK businesses. The reality is that Europe will remain the UK’s major trading partner post-Brexit.
“Any UK business with a European footprint will be at risk of defending litigation in Europe should it breach European law, but they will not enjoy the benefits conferred by such litigation taking place in the familiar surrounds of the UK’s courts.”