The London-based legal battle between Russian oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky are highly attractive to London law firms who are expecting to pocket around £100 million in legal fees from the Russians and their thirst for British justice.
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich may have won his battle against $6.5bn (5bn) of claims by exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, but the legal fees associated with the case are expected to top £100m.
When the lawyers have totted up all the hours spent on the four-month long High Court battle it is expected to rank among the most expensive cases to have been fought in London courts. And Abramovich vs Berezovsky is just one of a slew of oligarch battles making their way through London’s legal system, and turning the lawyers involved into multi-millionaires.
In a few weeks the High Court will hear the next round of a legal battle between Oleg Deripaska, the Russian billionaire friend of Lord Mandelson, and Michael Cherney, a Uzbek-born businessman.
This year Kazakh billionaire Mukhtar Ablyazov fled from the UK after the court found him guilty of lying about his vast fortune during one of the world’s biggest world’s biggest ever fraud trails. Ablyazov, who lied about his ownership of a £17m house on The Bishops Avenue in north London, known as London’s “millionaires’ row”, is now a fugitive from UK justice.
Mark McAteer, national editor of Legal Business magazine, said the Russian legal battles have helped push the profits at top 100 law firms in the Capital to more than £5bn for the first time ever.
“Litigation for Russian clients has been a massive source of revenue for a number of firms – both big firms and boutique firms,” he said.
McAteer said Russians prefer to have their cases heard in the UK because “they approve of the system of usually having a fair playing field and we have very good judges and lawyers”.
The lawyers are also very well paid. Research by Legal Business shows that on average magic circle firm Slaughter & May’s 723 lawyers bill clients for £620,000 in fees every year.
McAteer said seven or eight of London’s big law firms paid their partners more than £1m each last year. “There are partners paid a lot more than that with individual deals and bonuses, but you won’t be able to work out how much,” he added. “It’s accounting so whether [what law firm’s publish in their accounts] is a true reflection is a question.”
The Legal Business survey shows combined profits for the top 100 London firms increased by 8% to £5.4bn last year. Revenue rose by 17% to £17.7bn, but the figure is flattered by a number of internal mergers which distort the figures.
DLA Piper is London’s biggest law firm in terms of revenue, raking in £1.4bn a year, ahead of Clifford Chance on £1.3bn and Linklaters on £1.2bn. The top 100 law firms employ more than 100,000 people.