Ronald DeKoven

Job title: Barrister, DeKoven Chambers

DeKoven Chambers specialises in commercial disputes arising out of complex international transactions.

What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Several matters that I was instructed on in the ‘90s (acting for the liquidators of BBCI, acting for the administrators of KWELM, acting for Equitas and the Society of Lloyd’s of London, and acting for the administrators of Barings) were very important to my career at Shearman & Sterling and in creating expertise in cross border insolvency.

In addition these matters provided a foundation for my decision to leave New York City and emigrate to London in 2003. In the course of doing that work I met a number of members of the Bar of England and Wales who impressed me with the quality of their advocacy, the breadth of their practice and the depth of their integrity. I seriously envied their practice as independent barristers. My practice in New York was interesting but not terribly diverse – the preponderance of my time was focused on insolvency and restructuring. In addition, conflicts of interest created by my partners forced me to refuse fascinating instructions. During a trip to London in 2002 a friend and senior partner at a Magic Circle firm suggested that I become a barrister and advised that South Square was the set best suited to my needs. I needed no additional encouragement to move to London.

The Bar Council helpfully permitted me to practice New York law in chambers. This allowed me the opportunity to establish myself in London. Even though my career as a Wall Street lawyer was fascinating, my call to the Bar in 2009 was, in many ways, the real highlight of my career. It appears that I am one of only a few members of the Bar who have had an extended career on Wall Street. Due to the dual qualification I have been instructed by a number of clients in the past three years to lead commercial disputes in many diverse jurisdictions. Thus, in the past three years, I have been involved in work in France, Germany, Austria, Thailand, Ireland, Libya and Portugal.

What do you credit your success to?
There is little question in my mind that the dual qualification is the foundation to my current success.

However, I suspect that answer is somewhat simplistic. I am blessed with interesting instructions that demand significant legal research.

Because of my early training I am inclined to look very hard for historical precedent. The success I have had has been in finding legal precedents that can be updated and brought into the 21st century. Those successes have then led to additional instructions from new clients.

What ambitions do you still have in your career?
I think it is very important to expand into new areas. Fortunately, several of my clients have asked me to act as the leader in cases outside of the areas of expertise that I concentrated in during my time as a Wall Street lawyer. I launched DeKoven Chambers in 2012, and hope to establish these new chambers as a focal point for resolving important issues in cross border cases. In addition, this year I assumed the board chairmanship of the UK Foundation for International Uniform Law. The prior chair, Sir Professor Roy Goode QC, raised sufficient money to fund dozens of scholarships at Oxford, Cambridge and UNIDROIT. The Foundation is now planning a gala for next October to honour Sir Roy for his contributions. I have also launched a web-based company, MyBarrister, to assist lay clients in need of legal services to secure direct access to the Bar. Finally, I have begun preliminary work on a book analysing the UNIDROIT Model Law of Leasing, it is scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press.

What is the best advice you’ve been given professionally?
While studying at the University of Chicago Law School, Professor Grant Gilmore agreed to supervise me in writing a paper on the common law of contracts. The paper was later published in the University of Chicago Law Review.

As a result, Professor Gilmore became a great mentor to me. I learned many things from him. The first is that in every case you must understand not only the facts in dispute but also the custom and usage of the parties. The second is that it is critical to understand how the law applicable to that transaction developed. It is remarkable in the years since my call to the Bar in 1968 how many times I have had positive results in a case from presenting the history of the relevant law—it is not wrong to say that legal history built my career.

How do you relax?
I have been fortunate in that I have been able to purchase a small vineyard in Napa Valley, California. Whenever possible my wife and I steal away from London to spend time there. I am able to work on my several projects without interruption (other than a few minutes in the sunshine). It also allows me to drive the classic cars that I have collected in an environment less challenging than urban London.

Ronald DeKoven was interviewed by Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah

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