High Court activity steady in 2023 as Clydes and 4 New Square lead way

Bird: Global events cast a long shadow

Clyde & Co and 4 New Square were the most active law firm and chambers in the High Court in 2023, a year that saw commercial dispute numbers stay steady and insolvency matters on the rise.

The annual review produced by litigation data and analytics platform Solomonic said that “geopolitical, pandemic and economic events loomed large” over the High Court.

More than 7,500 claims were issued in the year, down just 1% on 2022, plus a further 12,400 insolvency actions. There were 935 judgments.

“The year was characterised by tough underlying macro-economic conditions; major geopolitical events including the continuation of the Russo-Ukrainian war; and the next wave of Covid-19 related disputes, including the related complexities of insurance policies,” Solomonic said.

“A number of ongoing privacy and media-related disputes further defined the year, including high-profile court successes.

“Unsurprisingly, the difficult economic circumstances led to a spike in insolvency cases, as well as subdued new claim activity throughout most of the year.

“The sharp rise in insolvency actions reflects the bleak reality facing businesses, particularly in construction, leisure and hospitality, struggling to recover after the withdrawal of pandemic support. Escalating energy prices and interest rates have only added to their challenges.”

What it called “the big beasts of English ligation” – the top 30 firms – accounted for 26% of the work, consistent with past years.

Clyde & Co again led the way, involved in 217 new claims in 2023 (down from 247 in 2022), with DAC Beachcroft close behind on 210 (181 in 2022).

Manchester claimant firm Barings Law was a new entry in third with 144 claims, “its rise driven by a raft of pandemic business interruption claims”, the review said.

The top 10 was rounded out by DWF (136 claims), Kennedys Law (133), RPC (127), Weightmans (122), Shoosmiths (99), HFW (99) and Leigh Day (88).

When judged by value, the big aviation claims helped Dechert, Herbert Smith Freehills, HFW and Weightmans top the list.

The list for insolvency cases was unsurprisingly very different, topped by Freeths (358 claims), well clear of Pannone Corporate (260) and Coltman Warner Cranston (224).

For the first time, Solomonic ranked barristers’ chambers and 4 New Square pipped Fountain Court to the top position in terms of judgments handed down in the year (87 v 84). There were followed by 3VB (73), Brick Court Chambers (72) and One Essex Court (69).

There was a small fall in the number of claims issued against lawyers, but it was still nearly 150.

The Commercial Court has seen higher-value claims than in preceding years, the review said, including 97 with a value exceeding £10m. “The business list reveals a similar shape, with 2023 average value more than double that of a few years ago.”

The Performing Right Society (118 claims) and Phonographic Performance (114), “the stalwarts in recording rights advocacy”, were the most active claimants, with the review saying they have “significantly escalated their pursuit of copyright claims on behalf of their members”.

Insolvency litigation funder Manolete Partners, which generally takes an assignment of the cause of action, maintained its position as the third most active claimant, with 39 new claims.

Looking ahead to 2024, Solomonic said it expected “a growing appetite for the use of predictive modelling for claim outcomes as litigation funding and insurance becomes more and more competitive”.

Claims related to generative artificial intelligence, particularly in copyright disputes and data privacy, should rise, as should claims related to ESG (environmental, social and governance). “Topics such as greenwashing and climate change are amongst those we would anticipate rising in the future.”

Edward Bird, Solomonic CEO, said: “Global events cast a long shadow and this is evident in 2023 commercial litigation. Despite a slow start it has turned into an equally busy year for litigators.

“The top firms have again been active, with some churn, while competition and group actions declined after the PACCAR decision, though I doubt this is more than a temporary hiatus.”

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