Natasha Harrison, 49, has seen more column inches written about her departure from leading disputes boutique Boies Schiller and the setting up of her own firm than she could count – including from us at LawFuel.
But her new firm continues to arouse high interest given her desire to break the old boy culture club that has long dominated Big Law.
Her firm, Pallas Partners, focusing as it is upon being the leading disputes legal practice in Britain, wants to develop an inclusive culture that intends taking its billing lead from the competitive and often alpha-male world of hedge funds and finance.
Her new firm’s name, she told The Financial Times, reflects her Greek origins, referencing Pallas Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom – and warfare.
Much has been written regarding her surprise departure from Boies Schiller last year, the firm that she co-chaired and which has experienced a significant loss of legal talent, although it it now back on the recruitment front.
The Hourly Billing Alternative
One of the objectives Harrison has for her new firm is to change its billing structure away from the much-criticized but predominant hourly billing structure and, adopting the banking practice of investing in some of its own cases. These will be ‘stressed tested’ to assess the financial risk, somewhat in the vein of personal injury litigation, quite apart from the more lofty investment banking fee-earns.
And its cases are set to be very large, including major securities litigation cases and disputes in the UK and Europe. She rose to legal fame in the wake of Iceland’s financial crash after the GFC.
But apart from much client-centered unpopularity about hourly billing, there is also the issue of avoiding the time and target pressures that come from meeting high billing targets, leading to staff disgruntlement and issues.
“[The billable hour] incentivises the wrong behaviours,” Harrison says. “A litigator is motivated to have litigation last as long as possible, but most clients do not want [that] . . . And it creates a mindset where you’re constantly placing value on every minute of your time. I’m surprised I haven’t put charging codes on the children’s supper sometimes!”
The New Way
Natasha Harrison’s ‘new way’ for her firm is to take advantage of the ‘great resignation’ of which she was part herself with her departure from Boies Schiller, which she says was with the understanding and support of law star David Boies, who had himself left Cravaths to start his own firm.
But she wants a firm that understands what younger lawyers are looking for today, by using technology to blank out the applicants’ schools and providing mentoring as well as ensuring home life is retained and enjoyed.
Breaking down the clubby and institutionalised aspects of legal life is what this new age ‘Greek goddess’-following lawyer is all about.