Sunday, 13 January 2013

Katy Dowell


Katy Dowell is "up for 2013 and raring to go." At least that's what she told me when I spoke to her just as her Top 20 Cases hit the streets in The Lawyer's first print edition of the year. I was keen to hear the story behind the story as it were: just how does The Lawyer go about compiling this seminal piece of reporting on the litigation market? Just how do they manage to find out so much information about cases coming up in the year ahead, whilst most other publications are content merely to review the year that's past? 

"We do see this as one of our signature features and so we're prepared to throw a lot of resource at it" she tells me. As her editor Cat Griffiths points out in her Leader this week, The Lawyer's Top 20 cases has become "the essential guide to the biggest and hairiest disputes in the English courts" and is unique in being "anticipatory rather than retrospective research". "We start work as far back as mid-November," Katy tells me, "contacting more than 100 of our best contacts amongst the top clerks, all the major sets and top litigators in the big-hitting firms, asking them what they have on their books for the coming year. Selecting which cases to highlight was particularly difficult this year as there was so much to choose from - much more than last year. As I said in the feature, this is the year when credit crunch litigation is really starting to break through and that will bring with it problems for the banks". Almost half her Top 20 involve suits involving banks or financial institutions. "At the start of the credit crunch, in 2008/9, people were scared to sue the banks because they relied on them for financing. Also it was less clear at that time exactly where claims might lie. As time has moved on the true picture is starting to emerge and people are more adamant about bringing banks and financial institutions to account where they see a case to answer." 

In terms of other trends, Katy points out two: "the continuing rise of CFAs is interesting - the multi-million pound suit against Britain's richest man, steel tycoon Lakshimi Mittal, is being funded by a CFA. Also the continuing rise of the litigation boutiques - firms like Stewarts Law, Peters & Peters, Kingsley Napley and Enyo Law. In the days of the corporate boom" (remember those?) "litigators were the poor relations. But in these straitened times, this is now their moment: litigators have everything to play for and they don't want to be hamstrung by the sensitivities of their corporate colleagues and blocked from acting on the best of the cases in the market because of client conflicts. These boutiques have stepped into this space, particularly setting out their stall as being brepared to take on the banks. When you compare Stewarts' PEP of £926,000 with Clifford Chance's £933,000 it's clear they are on to something. 

"Of course for some, the thrill is still about being part of a cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional team advising the top global corporates and the world's leading financial institutions. But for others the freedom to specialise in litigation and not worry about conflicts has more appeal (excuse the pun)."

Top 20 cases is one of the most well-read of The Lawyer's features in the year. This is not only the result of all the hard work from November by Katy and the team (Joanne Harris and Sam Chadderton provided additional reporting) but also the time and energy she invests in building relationships with the Bar throughout the year - her contacts book in this part of the legal world is second to none. Moreover she is clearly in her element and has emerged energised and excited from the task - presumably licking her lips at the thought of all those juicy litigation stories she'll be writing as the year progresses.
Well, we love reading your feature Katy – and look forward to your lively write-ups as each of your Top 20 opens in court. 

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Good news for sex and age equality in the Oscar nominations list, out this week. Do we see signs that attitudes to older women are changing? (A subject very close to my heart!)

The Times' arts correspondent Jack Malvern reminded me of the story how Meryl Streep once famously illustrated the problem of institutional sexism and ageism in the film industry depriving fine actresses of good parts by telling how as soon as she turned 40 she was offered no less than three roles as a witch! But this year, two actresses spaced apart more than 70 years have both been nominated for Oscars: 9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild and 85 year old Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, respectively the youngest and oldest person ever to appear on the Best Actress shortlist. Are the times a changing? Now that would be a good start to the New Year.   

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It looks an exciting year ahead in the arts world generally. Sumptuous reading this January as the papers set out the treats ahead over the next 12 months. I'm particularly excited about the Lichtenstein exhibition opening at the Tate Modern this February. Bound to be a busy exhibit though, as its comic book quirkiness has mass appeal across the generations. 

Click here for details of the exhibition.

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