Big law firms hiring poor-performing barristers, analysts claim

Toby Unwin

Unwin:”Peer recognition does not relate to success at all”

A group of US-based entrepreneurs claim to have carried out pioneering research showing that big commercial firms in the UK are “routinely rehiring poor performing barristers while ignoring the best performers”.

Toby Unwin, co-founder and chief technology officer of Premonition, said the Florida firm had studied 3,225 UK Court of Appeal cases over a three-year period.

“Win rate does not correlate with billing rate,” Mr Unwin said. “The more people pay for something, the better they think it is, but because nobody has been keeping the score, they don’t know.

“Sooner or later someone will break the news that law firms have, for several hundred years, been picking barristers at random and not keeping track of win rates.

“Peer recognition does not relate to success at all. Clients of magic circle firms will spend insane amounts of money hiring QCs based on how attractive their offices are, the colour of their hair and whether they’re a well-regarded guy.

“The people with win rates of 70% or 80% are the ones who should be hired. What angers me is that you are could easily end up with someone with rates of 20% or less. The most important question a client should ask a barrister is ‘what is your win rate before this judge?’”

Mr Unwin, who was born and grew up in England, said clients would sometimes be better off representing themselves at the Court of Appeal, where the average win rate of litigants in person was 44%.

He said the amount of litigation carried out in the UK was “tiny” when compared to the USA, but it was more expensive, making it attractive to Premonition.

Mr Unwin said he had used some of his experience in founding online headhunting firm NetSearch, which he later sold, for his research on win rates.

“Premonition’s mission is to identify trends over large numbers of cases to spot outlying performers,” he said. “Therefore we do not get into the minutiae of determining ‘good’ and ‘bad’, wins or losses. Where cases are on the fence we exclude them from win rate calculations as we are looking for the outright best performers.”

Mr Unwin said Premonition used a web crawler to examine court documents and help identify which cases were lost and won.

“We taught the computer how to read cases. After about 2,000 cases the computer would ask us if it did not understand a ruling. It was like dealing with a child – only now the child has grown up.”

Premonition says on its website that it enables clients to “know the track record” of their attorney, “select co-counsel who have never lost in front of certain judges” and “analyse the court, judge and opposing counsel by their win rates and results”.

Expert witnesses and arbitrators can be chosen in the same way, which the site says adds up to a “very, very unfair advantage in litigation”.

Premonition’s other co-founder is Guy Kurlandski, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” across a range of industries, including newspapers, private equity, video games and property.




    Readers Comments

  • Eddie B says:

    This is a huge breakthrough, sounds like theres finally transparency in the legal community on the way, a massive well done to these entrepreneurs. I hope to be able to utilize there system the next time we face litigation.

  • Peter says:

    Its a mistake to think that no-one knows who the winners are. The Judges do. The elite do. The magic circle lawyers think they the are elite but they are not. They might get the odd knighthood at the top for services to industry or charity etc. but they are just greedy slaves to the grubby business of the fast money boys and seedy foreigners in the City. When it comes to the truly important business of running the United KIngdom (and her very diverse interests) there is a true elite group who know well who the winners are.

    The good news here is that by simple analysis of all the winners and losers (and I would suggest it should be done for the Commercial Courts as well as the CoA and the SC) everyone will get to know. The small problem is a Court analysis will miss those extraordinary talents (bound for the SC) whose signed opinion alone is enough to settle a dispute.

    But this is a good start.

    Where do we sign up?

  • Mauricio Navarro says:

    Very good service, is it offered in Spanish? On which states or other countries is the service offered?

  • Toby Unwin says:

    Our Web site is
    We can do any online Court, any country, any language, any alphabet.

  • Some dude says:

    Strikes me that the people taking on truly complex work and difficult cases will probably have a relatively crap win rate, but that’s because they don’t take on easy cases, not because they’re poor advocates. For all we know, Jim Bloggs QC wins 95% of his cases because he consistently weasels his way onto litigation where it should be obvious his side has the stronger case.

    In other words: this research is somewhere between being misleading and total bollocks.

    For instance: Hewitsons may have been the firm with the most High Court wins, but that doesn’t mean I’d instruct them over HSF or Hogan Lovells if I had a tough case coming up.

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