Berwin Leighton Paisner to revamp litigation practice after external review

Berwin Leighton Paisner

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) has completed a three-month review of its global litigation and corporate risk practice that is expected to lead to the firm introducing mandatory client secondments for associates and international expansion of the practice.

The  outcome of the review – which was led by Tony Reiss of Sherwood Consulting, who has also worked with firms including Ashurst, Hogan Lovells and Linklaters – is expected to see BLP expand its corporate crime and investigations practice to Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, from its current team in London and Moscow.

This international expansion is expected to come through a combination of relocations, secondments and lateral hires.

The firm also wants to beef up its broader litigation practice in London, particularly in energy and natural resources, corporate crime, commercial litigation and employment disputes.

BLP litigation head Nathan Willmott, who has run the practice since June 2015, said: “The recommendations include a clear guiding policy for the department, methods for delivering our services to clients in better ways, enhancing exchange of insights and information within the department, and areas for investment in the UK and internationally.”

Willmott said the firm already had some strong disputes groups in Hong Kong, Singapore, Moscow and the UAE, but now wanted to widen the disputes practice internationally.

“Our plans are to build out those practices in Asia and the UAE to provide a wider range of disputes and investigations services to our clients. Our corporate crime team undertakes a significant amount of work for clients based in Asia and it makes sense to have lawyers serving those clients locally rather than from the UK.”

On the secondment side, BLP wants to significantly step up a programme that has seen associates join clients including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Serious Fraud Office and the Bank of England.

To get closer to clients, Willmott is committing to sending all associates on a six- to 12-month secondment to a client or regulator in their first five years.

He added: “We see the secondment programme as transformational in giving our associates deep sectoral knowledge and much greater confidence and insights in understanding the pressures that clients are under, and what we can do to alleviate those pressures.”

As part of the review, BLP surveyed every partner and associate in the department about their ideas of the challenges facing both the firm and its clients, going on to set up a strategy steering group comprising 12 partners and associates representing different practice areas and international offices. The results were then presented to a separate litigation and commercial risk strategy board, before being presented to the practice as a whole.

News of the departmental review comes after BLP pulled out of intellectual property litigation earlier this year. However, Willmott insists that the decision to shed that team pre-dated the litigation review, which was not focused on cutting headcount or withdrawing from certain areas.

Other recent exits from the practice include real estate litigator Joanna Lampert, who left to join Mishcon de Reya in May. She had been at BLP since 1999 and was made up to partner in 2006.

Former partners suggest this latest review was prompted by  a lack of clarity and communication around the firm’s strategy to date in litigation. One said the move reflected how the firm was aiming to “internationalise” and win more work in other areas beyond its core real estate play. “They are trying to diversify to be international. Put simply, their thinking is: ‘we can’t just be real estate, what else have we got?’”