There are rich pickings for lawyers in several areas of litigation that could help offset losses for personal injury specialists following the Jackson reforms, experienced litigators have reported.
Speaking at last week’s Law Society litigation conference in London under the banner Litigators: survive and thrive, experts in cross-border cases, collective actions, patents, contentious probate and insolvency were upbeat about the potential for growth in their areas.
Stephen Mason, senior partner of Leeds-based travel law specialists Travlaw, said fear of being badly affected by the Jackson reforms was making people ask themselves: “What do I do – go off and open a sandwich shop, or are there things I can use my litigation skills for to develop my practice?”
Cross-border work was increasing with the trend for companies and individuals to work and train across international boundaries. “If you are not used to it, it can seem a bit daunting. But there’s not that much to it and it’s not that scary,” he stressed.
Giles Anderson, a senior associate at Clifford Chance, said the recession has created openings in insolvency work. “There is a lot of work you can do and it is not that difficult… any litigator can do it.” He added that adjustments within companies have produced opportunities to assist transactional lawyers. “There’s an awful lot of restructuring coming down the line,” he predicted.
Peter Ellis, a partner at regional firm Browne Jacobson, said it was “a very, very good time to be taking an interest in intellectual property as a potential area of work to get into”. The average cost of a patent case is estimated to be between £650,000 and £1.5m. “If you get your gearing right, it is still an area of work where clients are prepared to pay for the protection of the value of their intellectual property,” he said.
The Patents County Court is tolerant of practitioners who are finding their way on matters of law, although it expects a high degree of proficiency in procedure, he said. Building a practice around access to the court could mean “you will find an awful lot of people out there that want to use your services”.
Alison Meek, a litigator in contentious probate at central London firm Harcus Sinclair, said a number of factors had contributed to growth. They included an ageing population, meaning higher dementia rates and issues arising around capacity, increasing property prices, and fractured families. “As a probate lawyer it is of course rich pickings and it’s going to continue to be,” she said.
David Greene, a partner at Lincoln’s Inn firm Edwin Coe, said there was a steady growth in group litigation and collective actions accompanying the rise of consumer and environmental rights. People’s ability to form associations of victims using Internet communication provided a “ready body of potential claimants”, he said.
Another driver for collective actions, Mr Green argued, is cost efficiency. The high cost of litigation means consumers cannot afford to bring claims alone, especially where they have small losses individually. “There is nothing particularly special about collective actions work – it’s not rocket science, it is just about [putting] these groups together and to litigate on their behalf,” he said.