Your firm has carved out a place in the market as a thriving litigation/arbitration practice in just two years. How do you explain your success?
GA: What we are building in our London office is a new model for providing litigation services. We are combining the best qualities of a top chambers with those of a traditional law firm, while avoiding the pitfalls of the split profession. Our firm’s barristers and solicitors, with their distinctive experience, work closely as a team from the beginning of every case. Issues are discussed deeply from all perspectives. Everyone is free – indeed encouraged – to challenge the views of others. We think this approach enables us to provide the service that best meets the client’s need. From the client’s perspective, that means full and easy access to the whole legal team from the first meeting, quick turnaround of advice and a focussed and efficient implementation of a clear and well thought out strategy. So far, the feedback we have received from our clients has been overwhelmingly positive.
Do you ever instruct independent barristers in your cases?
JH: What is most important to us is that we have the best people on every case, so we always involve outside counsel where we believe that is in the client’s best interests. When we work with outside counsel, which occurs frequently, it is important to us that they understand and accept our philosophy. We want them to be part of the team from the outset. Discussions about the strategy of a case are often at their most critical right at the beginning and they should involve the whole legal team. We believe that the advocate in a case should be involved in deciding the opening moves in litigation, rather than just being brought in at the end.
Are you encountering any resistance to this approach?
TB: This is a much more aligned approach than would traditionally have been the case for barristers, and obviously not all outside counsel would be comfortable working in that way. We do find, however, that the independent barristers we use (and of course the barristers within JHA who have joined from the Bar) welcome the opportunity to work more directly with clients, where appropriate, and to help mould the development of each case with a top rate team at every stage.
Does your approach to tax cases follow this model?
GA: Absolutely. When I was in chambers I would typically be instructed by solicitors or accountants at the stage when a tax dispute was thought likely to be litigated at the Tribunal. At JHA, I get involved from the first moment that a potential dispute is brought to the firm by the client. This means that I can take an active part in identifying the client’s objectives, and developing the strategy to achieve those objectives. From our experience this approach helps avoid going down blind alleys, gets the right evidence prepared at an early stage, and usually shortens the timescale for resolving the dispute. This has enabled several disputes to be settled quite quickly on mutually acceptable terms, rather than being dragged through a protracted and unpredictable process of litigation.
When you started out you were mainly a tax litigation firm. What has changed since then?
TB: When the firm opened in March 2013 we already had a substantial tax litigation team in place. Whilst the tax side has expanded since then, the commercial litigation and arbitration side of the practice has grown enormously and that now makes up the majority of the firm. We had originally thought that we would need to act in conjunction with other firms in order to service larger matters but, in practice, that has not been necessary. Much of our work is from international clients or involves an international element and so we have recruited lawyers from various backgrounds and countries, partly to ensure that we can provide a really international approach to cases. We are currently acting in two very significant challenges to EU sanctions and we are involved in several BIT arbitrations, as well as other arbitrations. This is enabling barristers with the appropriate skills to participate in all forms of arbitration, where law firms have been tending to minimise the involvement of, or even exclude, the Bar.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the past two years and what are your plans for the future?
JH: It’s a crucial element of our philosophy that the lawyers at JHA must be exceptional. We made a promise to ourselves early on that we would not compromise on recruitment, which makes that a time consuming process. We are well aware of the great depth and talent at the Bar, and we are very keen that the Bar survives and flourishes. However, we’ve been joined by some brilliant barristers of various calls who clearly meet the very high standards we have set ourselves. The Bar remains an important target for us for recruitment at all levels. Barristers within the firm remain barristers, and they can act in a dual capacity. Some of our leading barristers have, for example, been retained by other law firms to represent their clients. In addition, two of our junior barristers recently appeared in a significant judicial review, led by Pushpinder Saini QC of Blackstone Chambers. We also look forward to our own juniors taking Silk from within the firm. As for the future, we are unashamedly ambitious, although expansion will never be at the expense of quality. We started with an analysis of what – and who – we needed to build a truly outstanding law firm for the future, and we have adhered to our core plan while being ready to improvise and seize opportunities. Two years down the line we feel, all hubris aside, that the formula is working even better than anticipated. This is a cohesive and motivated team with a satisfied and growing client base. We have every reason for optimism.
Joe Hage, Graham Aaronson QC and Tom Beazley QC were interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP