An opportunity UK firms are simply ignoring

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Griffiths_Catrin_2016_BylineThis Tuesday we’ll find out who won the constitutional case of the century when the Supreme Court rules on Miller. For legal market watchers there’s an added frisson: we’ll also find out whether it was James Eadie QC or David Pannick QC who had the ear of the judges. The Article 50 case last December had many – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – agog at the Supreme Court livestream, which attracted a record 300,000 viewers. For Blackstone Chambers, to which Eadie and Pannick belong, it was some showcase.

Blackstone, Doughty Street and Matrix are regulars in the Supreme Court, as are 11 KBW, Monckton, Brick Court and Landmark. (It helps if, like Blackstone, you have the Treasury Devil in chambers.)

But it’s a variegated picture when it comes to law firms. I looked at The Lawyer Litigation Tracker data for 2015 and 2016 to see which firms have been inhabiting the Supreme Court over the past two years. Some names are familiar from their claimant and public interest focus such as Leigh Day, Birnberg Peirce and Bindmans. But a handful of City firms such as Allen & Overy, Freshfields and Pinsent Masons are also prominent. Mishcon de Reya, one of the firms behind the Article 50 case, is also visible.

There’s a trick being missed here. City firms simply aren’t marketing an appellate practice in the same way as in the US. UK law firms, of course, don’t do the advocacy. And they’re going to have fewer appearances than your average chambers because silks from the same set are perfectly likely to go up against each other, as with Eadie and Pannick. Yet even taking all that into account, this experience at the top level – by which I include the Court of Appeal – can easily be used as a marker of the intellectual and commercial heft of a law firm. And from a branding, practice development and (whisper) ethical point of view, it should go hand in hand with a really classy pro bono practice. Pro bono commitment from the leading UK firms is, alas, still way behind the Americans.

Law firms endlessly agonise about how to promote themselves as thought leaders, but this is staring them in the face. What we need is a law firm that starts marketing itself on pro bono and intellectually challenging cases on top of its commercial litigation practices. It will only take one firm to start creating a super-appellate brand, and everyone else will follow. Mishcon, over to you.

For more information on purchasing The Lawyer  Litigation Tracker contact Richard Edwards on  richard.edwards@centaurmedia.com or  020 7970 4672

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