A law firm launch like no other – does Pallas Partners’ slick London premiere herald a blockbuster?
Natasha Harrison has played a strong hand well as she embarks on her new venture, reports Ben Rigby
In the Marvel blockbuster Eternals, the character Thena is played by Angelina Jolie, a superhero with seemingly unstoppable martial skills, indefatigable in her quest to defeat her CGI-generated enemies. She is part of a team whose skills combine to win against a terrible foe of incalculable power.
The character Thena is, of course, modelled on Pallas Athena – the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and war. She also provides the name for the new London litigation firm Pallas Partners, which launched in a blaze of publicity this week.
Having spearheaded the launch and growth of Boies Schiller Flexner’s London office, Natasha Harrison, only recently tipped to succeed co-founder David Boies as chair of the New York firm, has launched a breakaway practice.
Pallas comprises 27 former Boies Schiller staff in total, including five partners. That leaves her former firm with an on-the-ground London team of two recently made-up partners and an associate.
After a series of trailers in the national press, the firm’s official launch on Tuesday featured a slick video and smartly designed website in muted, classically appropriate tones; the shades of grey and aquamarine complementing a bronze of Pallas Athena herself, redolent in the firm’s smart City offices.
The launch did not lack confidence. Harrison spoke of “challenging the status quo”, agility of approach, and “leveraging bold, winning strategies that will drive value and mitigate risk for our clients”.
“Pallas,” she said, “represents an opportunity to ‘rip up the rule book’ with a new approach, unencumbered by existing protocols and historic processes to create a truly different offering in the market”.
And she promised to foster talent within “an empowering culture” promoting diversity and inclusion and the ESG agenda.
Around 100 clients have reportedly moved across with the firm and it cites a number of existing, high-profile mandates, including representing the Proindicus Mozambique note holders in their litigation against Credit Suisse and class actions representing Greensill investors.
Harrison and her team believe they can exploit gaps in the market for conflict-free dispute resolution. The firm will focus on commercial disputes, principally litigation, arbitration and investigations.
GLP understands Pallas will work closely with litigation funders and employ a range of flexible fee mandates, not necessarily dominated by hourly-rate billing.
The firm will work with clients to devise pricing structures that are most suitable to them, from conventional mandates to damages-based agreements. It will employ a pricing analyst to help devise these, while also building up a portfolio-based approach when working with litigation funders.
It will not, however, take on employment and family litigation cases, or certain types of real estate litigation, choosing to focus on areas in which the existing partnership are well versed.
To this point, it is hard to imagine how Harrison’s new venture could have fared better. And that extends to the apparent lack of rancour surrounding her departure on both sides.
When news of the mass defections broke, the New York firm issued a measured but detailed statement wishing the team well and pledging to rebuild the office. And Pallas will co-counsel with Boies Schiller on some ongoing cases, according to Harrison.
While there is a strong element of pragmatism in the US firm’s approach, it does appear that the bond that has formed between Harrison and her mentor Boies in the years that followed her arrival from Bingham McCutcheon in 2013 to set up the office has endured.
Harrison’s move to Boies Schiller proved to be a watershed moment in her career, given her subsequent success in growing the office, which posted revenue of £18.6m in the year ending 2020, up by 5%.
Given the immediate impact of Covid-19 on dampening disputes activity, and the turmoil being experienced by the mothership in the US as it underwent a wave of partner defections in a process it characterised as a repositioning, it was a very respectable performance.
During her tenure, Harrison hired a series of big hitters, notably Wendy Miles QC and Kenneth Beale, from Wilmer Hale, Dominic Roughton, from Herbert Smith Freehills, and Matt Getz, from Debevoise & Plimpton.
Of that roster, only Getz remained at the time of her departure, but the personal loyalty demonstrated by the partners who moved across with her – Tracey Dovaston, Fiona Huntriss, Will Hooker and Neil Pigott – comes as no surprise.
In 2017, she sponsored the candidature of Huntriss – an experienced litigator familiar with banking and financial litigation, restructuring and insolvency disputes – to become a partner; and she helped Dovaston successfully transition into the firm from an in-house role at Barclays.
Hooker, who joined as counsel in 2016, also made partner in 2017, building on opportunities handed to him by the likes of Miles, Roughton and Harrison. Getz forged the office’s investigations practice. Piggott traced a path from senior in-house compliance roles to similar roles at US and UK law firms, heightening his insolvency and special situations nous.
For many in London’s disputes community, Harrison was Boies Schiller’s chief advocate; not just the face of the firm, but someone who embodied a strong personal story, a record of achievement, an example to be followed, a woman leader who raised up her team to the same level at which she worked.
‘A living and breathing better-than-textbook dazzling example that people buy from people (and work for people), and they always will,’ is how veteran legal marketer Liz Whitaker put it in a LinkedIn post.
Harrison’s former firm, meanwhile, must embark on a daunting rebuilding programme in London. GLP understands from a source familiar with the matter that Boies will seek to make good the London exits with targeted lateral hires. International arbitration remains a key area of focus, for example, with London’s place in that firmament making further recruitment essential.
For now, however, all eyes are on Pallas Partners. Harrison has a lot to live up to, but she has played her hand expertly to this point. A blockbuster might well be on the cards.