As 2022 has come to a close, City lawyers undoubtedly remember last year as the time the pay war among London’s biggest firms heated up in earnest, as the war for talent reached new highs.
But away from the Square Mile’s biggest legal teams, 2022 will also go down as an incredibly exciting year for Natasha Harrison.
The rising City star is making waves in London’s legal community by taking on the big players as the Boies Schiller Flexner graduate launched her own law firm this year.
As 2023 has kicked off in earnest, it’s a good time for City A.M. to sit down with Harrison, the founder and managing partner of Pallas Partners.
Firstly, let’s touch on the ruthless pay war in the City, the ongoing war for talent. How can you compete with the big US law firms that are paying top whack to their lawyers, being a relatively small boutique firm yourself?
We can because we’ve kept at the very top end of the market, and we are competing with top end services. We are finding also that lawyers want to come and work for Pallas because we are offering something in addition to top level salaries.
“I wanted to be the architect of a modern law firm which reflects my value system and my goals.”City lawyer Natasha Harrison
Our pro bono and volunteering platform enables our lawyers and staff to engage with some of the most important issues facing this generation; our environmental agenda means we will be carbon neutral by 2025 – if not before; and, in line with our pledge to achieve diversity parity by 2025, our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion means that we truly celebrate diversity in all of its forms.
So why did you decide to launch your own law firm, particularly in such a crowded and competitive legal landscape?
I saw a real gap in the market for a top end litigation firm based in London and New York; this, combined with the opportunity to create something unique and cutting-edge. I wanted to be the architect of a modern law firm which reflects my value system and my goals, such as acting for clients on their most complex and important disputes; advancing an ESG agenda; and creativity around fee arrangements.
What are the most challenging aspects of starting from scratch?
I think on the operational side, building out the business support team is key; it’s something that takes time. We are fortunate that the vast majority of my existing operations team in London transferred to Pallas, but even then, getting the right systems in place is critical.
“There are also many benefits to starting from scratch; when you have a blank piece of paper you can shape the firm the way you want to.”City lawyer Natasha Harrison
Also, you can embed your values into the foundations – which is far more challenging in a more established and bureaucratic firm. It also enables you to look at issues and services afresh, including how best to partner with clients, focusing on delivering value and positively recalibrating that relationship.
How important is an international presence for a litigation firm?
We have the strategic benefit of being able to partner with best in class lawyers in local jurisdictions across the world. This is preferable to having offices in every jurisdiction (which increases overhead but does not guarantee quality), and allows us to engage the very best local counsel for each case.
“A key market for us is the United States and we will soon be launching a New York office.”Natasha Harrison
It’s an important part of our strategy to have a meaningful presence in both London and New York, especially as many of our clients operate across both jurisdictions and so many of our cases run along the London/New York axis.
How is this nature of litigation changing? Are we moving more to the US model?
This is an exciting time to be a litigator in England. We are seeing an increased appetite for securities litigation claims, which traditionally UK investors have not engaged in, together with an upsurge in group actions. All of this is being fuelled by litigation finance. Having said that, I believe there are enough checks and balances in the UK system which means we will not transform into the litigious society that characterises the US, including the fact that we don’t have punitive damages and have maintained an adverse costs regime.
Looking ahead, zooming in on 2023, where do you see opportunities?
We follow our clients and take their lead on where they’re investing and the types of issues they are facing. I certainly see opportunities in the ESG space; everyone is very, very focused on that and there are a lot of uncertainties around it. Ultimately, I think ESG is going to provide very fertile ground.
For example, we are acting with Client Earth in a first of its kind case relating to its claim against Shell and its directors for failing to adopt and implement a climate strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement.
“We are expecting an uptick in distressed debt litigation, restructuring litigation and M&A litigation – all post Covid trends.”Natasha Harrison
We have a specialist team that has expertise in all of these areas in New York and in London which works with hedge funds, institutional investors and private equity houses to help successfully navigate these types of disputes.
Finally, are you still a big supporter of litigation funding?
I am – I think it has an important role to play; it enables us to deliver different types of value to our clients in terms of how we charge, while at the same time allowing us to preserve our liquidity as a firm and enabling us to take risks. So yes, I do think it’s an important part of the litigation eco-system and structure and is certainly here to stay.