Litigation Team of the Year

Clyde & Co

Clyde & Co secured a headline-hitting ‘David vs Goliath’ win for its business owner client Philip Sebry in January, when the High Court ruled Companies House was liable for a typo that forced Sebry’s business into administration. In a story so unbelievable you couldn’t make it up, Companies House mistakenly registered a winding up order on Sebry’s business Taylor and Sons, instead of the similarly named Taylor and Son Limited.

Although the error was quickly corrected, it triggered a wave of events causing suppliers to pull contracts and creditors scrambling to extract their money from the business. Sebry, who was on holiday at the time, returned home to find his century-old family business essentially bankrupt and its 250 employees left in the lurch.

Taking on the case, a Clydes team headed up by Neil Jamieson made the unprecedented argument that Companies House owed a duty of care to registered companies regarding recording of their solvency status. It meant assembling a team prepared to take on a difficult case against a government department with vast resources and supporting an understandably wary client against a defendant who repeatedly told him his case was hopeless. The firm chose to work for reduced fees while also working under a conditional fee arrangement.

Clydes eventually secured around £9m in damages for Sebry, and succeeded in setting a precedent to help prevent small business owners seeing their livelihoods crushed by similar errors in the future.

Runner up
  • White & Case

When a drinks licensing deal involving Vimto broke down in Pakistan, White & Case had to assemble a small team quickly and approach litigation funders to get the outcome it needed for its bottlemaker client, Gul, which had suffered £8m in lost revenue.

Under the licence agreement, the English courts had jurisdiction, but Gul – a relatively small family-run company – had never engaged in litigation outside of Pakistan and was quickly out of its depth and fearful of the costs involved. Following a case that showed how a team typically associated with big-ticket litigation could use budgeting and financial discipline in a case that went to trial with no clear winner, White & Case eventually secured damages and indemnity costs for its client.

The team’s work exemplified the successful use of litigation funding to achieve success for all parties.

Third place
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer demonstrated that a small team managed well can lead to great success for even its most esteemed clients when it defended Sotheby’s against a professional negligence claim brought by a disgruntled art seller.

The seller claimed his £11m Caravaggio painting was incorrectly catalogued by the auction house as a copy and sold for £42,000. The Freshfields team, led by Paul Lomas, brought in renowned art historians, vast electronic trial bundles and even a live demonstration by an artist using white spirit to ‘look behind’ a painting in court to argue its client had acted in good faith and was not negligent.

The judgment, which dismissed all claims against Sotheby’s following a four-week trial, clarified the law on the duties of auction houses setting an important precedent for future cases.

  • Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Mayer Brown International
  • Pinsent Masons
  • Simons Muirhead & Burton / Slater and Gordon