Latham & Watkins‘ new London litigation co-chair, Oliver Browne (pictured), talks about the firm’s plans for growth and the relationship between US and UK firms in the City.
How did you get into law and why litigation?
I like arguing. Sounds like a cliché, but I like to persuade people that I’m right. I was always told at school the chances of me becoming a lawyer were zero. I went to a comprehensive school in Wiltshire, and we were not always encouraged to aim high. That had the reverse effect on me.
At university in Paris, I took an international arbitration course. I like the cross-cultural nature of international arbitration. Someone from Asia, say, will have a very different concept of dispute resolution when compared with someone in America, for example, and international arbitration really allows you to help with that.
What are the standout matters in your career?
The key arbitration matter in my career was when I represented a Polish foundry owner when I was an associate. He had very little money and his business was in such peril. I remember thinking if I win the case the foundry continues, if I lose 2,000 people will end up unemployed. That really showed me that I can help someone in a difficult situation.
You were an associate at Allen & Overy until 2005. How have you seen the relationship between US and UK firms develop over time?
When I started, US firms were still trying to maintain their US culture in London, with expats form the US and a few local lawyers. Over the last decade, the UK offices of US firms have evolved and become more adapted to the local market. Latham always had a strong meritocratic culture and is incredibly well run and that differentiates it.
A number of UK firms have tried a package of measures to deal with the threat of US firms, including sustained efforts to crack the US market. It is an incredibly hard place to compete, as many have discovered.
What are the key trends in arbitration?
The approach to the Brussels regulation (or lack thereof) in the context of Brexit fascinates me. The free movement of judgments throughout the EU remains, for me, one of the cornerstones of the European project. It was a really useful thing. Brexit makes all of that less certain, so arbitration may experience another resurgence. It may be that parties should now put arbitration clauses in their contracts, even for transactions within Europe.
What are the major political impacts on the legal market today, and arbitration more specifically?
I am very interested in the approach to ethics taken by firms in the City, in particular when conflicts of interest are likely to occur. The Solicitors Regulation Authority changed from a rules-based to an outcome-focused regime in 2011. It will be interesting to see how people are adapting that to match the modern market, and I still see a lot of challenges ahead. We have a strong ethics committee here at Latham and take these issues very seriously.
This article first appeared on The Lex 100‘s sister publication, Legal Business.