You’ve been Head of New Square Chambers since 2010 and are regarded as being pre-eminent in the area of minority shareholder rights. To what do you credit your success?
I would put whatever success I have had down to hard work, good fortune, and, last but not least, the ability to work with other people so that we all perform at our best. I have appeared in many of the reported leading cases in this field, e.g. O’Neill v Phillips (House of Lords, 1999), CVC v. Demarco (Privy Council, 2002), and Re Neath Rugby (Court of Appeal, 2009).
I have also written a book on the subject, Shareholders’ Rights, published by Sweet & Maxwell, and on Westlaw. The seventh edition has been published recently. The first edition was published in 1990, so the field of minority shareholders’ rights has been one of my specialisations for almost a quarter of a century. I would also mention sitting as a part-time judge, a useful by-product of which is improving one’s advocacy skills. Alas, you can never take anything for granted, or rest on your laurels, in this profession – and never take seriously what is generously said about you in the directories.
Your set has been acknowledged as having a strong offshore client base. How do you see the increasing volume of international instructions affecting the Bar through direct access?
As I understand the position, as from July this year the Bar will not be able to take international instructions from lay clients, unless they are direct access trained. I think this is a sound change. But I really don’t see that affecting my practice. It is pretty rare for such instructions to come from lay clients and only some of us wish to get involved with direct access in any event. But who knows what the future holds?
What trends have you seen in recent years with the international aspect of your practice?
As you say, my chambers have had a very strong offshore practice base for many years. When you talk about “international” work, you have to distinguish between cases to do with parties and events abroad which are governed by English law or subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts or arbitral tribunals, and what I would regard as the truly international, namely in an overseas jurisdiction which has strong or historical connections with the English legal system, such as the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and the many Caribbean jurisdictions. As a chambers, about 25% of our work falls into the latter category, and about 50% if you include the former category as well, and so it is very important to us indeed. As for myself, I have seen a very significant increase in the international aspects of my practice over the last five years or so. Not only have I advised and/or appeared with increasing regularity overseas, but I have also been instructed in large international arbitrations with an English seat and large cases litigated in London which have nothing to do with this country – all to do with shareholders’ disputes. I also frequently act as expert on English law in foreign jurisdictions.
What have been some of the most engaging cases you’ve worked on, and why?
I suppose the bigger cases with the bigger teams tend to be the more engaging, i.e. where the differences between the parties are more commercial than personal. But obviously it depends upon the personalities involved from case to case.
What advice would you give to juniors at the Chancery Bar reading this?
I would hesitate to give any advice to juniors at the Chancery Bar – they have to be so able, hard-working and generally talented nowadays even to get into a good set of chambers. For what it is worth, I would say to them not to be in too much of a hurry – it’s hopefully a long game in this life – and just do your best and leave it up to the judge, who hopefully will see through both sides’ difficulties.
What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given in your career?
That’s a difficult one. Advice is just advice and you don’t necessarily act upon it. And you only know whether you have made the right decisions in life with the benefit of the wisdom of hindsight. I would mention the advice I received, in a New York club as a matter of fact, from a young barrister who had recently moved away from the Bar and whose name I cannot now recall – I was wavering whether to become a barrister or a solicitor at the end of my time at university no doubt polluted by a year’s study in the States, but I was obviously inclined towards the Bar albeit lacking in confidence – he said that I should go for the Bar, because I would make a good living, I could always switch later, and otherwise I would always have in the back of my mind a regret that I had not had a go. Although I have to say it was touch and go for my early years at the Bar, back in the early eighties, I am very grateful for that advice.
How do you relax?
As a boy and young man I played an awful lot of sport, sometimes with a bat or club but usually with a racquet in my hand, and I still do play lawn and real tennis regularly, although the delights of golf are beginning to appeal to me more. I look back to 1978 when I decided to become a barrister and I count playing lawn tennis for the Bar and golf for Lincoln’s Inn, of which I am honoured to be a Bencher, as amongst the greatest pleasures of my career.
Robin Hollington QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah