Revealed: US firm fast-tracks UK launch using ABS’s platform

Goodhead: Firm has very substantial backing from the US

A US class action law firm has used a new platform created by an alternative business structure to fast-track its UK launch, Legal Futures can reveal.

As of today, SPG Law in Liverpool already has five partners and more than 30 fee-earners and the plan is to have more than 50 employees by the end of the year, making it one of the largest claimant law firms in the north-west.

Created by US class action firm Sanders Phillips Grossman, SPG is technically a trading name for Excello Law and has been set up in a matter of weeks.

Excello was one of the first new-style firms that recruits lawyers as consultants, and they can work independently and flexibly as they want while Excello provides back-office support.

It became an ABS in 2013 and this deal marks the launch of its Excello Libertas service, a support services platform for law firms looking for someone else to take on the regulatory and administrative burden of running their practice.

SPG is initially working on the VW emissions group action, working with Chesterfield firm Your Lawyers, which is on the group steering committee with lead solicitors Slater & Gordon and Leigh Day.

It has also today started putting a group together to take action over last week’s British Airways data breach, telling those affected that they could receive up to £1,500 in compensation.

It said that, under article 82 of GDPR, affected customers have a right to compensation for non-material damage.

SPG has five partners: Sanders Phillips partners Glenn Phillips and Marc Grossman, another US class action specialist Harris Pogust, English barrister Tom Goodhead and solicitor Nigel Taylor, who specialises in claims arising from international aviation disasters.

Mr Goodhead was previously at 9 Gough Square and has worked as junior counsel for the Your Lawyers VW group since it started in 2015.

He explained that the five partners were technically consultant lawyers of Excello; they took this route “because we wanted to be up and running as quickly as possible to get involved in the Volkswagen case”, he explained. In time, SPG could become a standalone ABS.

The firm has been busy “quietly” recruiting paralegals, with Liverpool and nearby Manchester a good source of “top-notch” staff, he said.

It would be offering training contracts and pupillages to local law school graduates as part of its commitment to the region.

They are also joined by Sarah Nolan, an Excello lawyer who has joined SPG full-time, and as of today Pamela Williams, who was a partner at local firm EAD Solicitors, and former DLA Piper and Ward Hadaway partner Tony Winterburn.

Mr Goodhead said they would be advertising for more solicitors, ranging from newly qualified to six-plus years PQE, and said it would pay above the local rate at a level “competitive with the best regional firms” in the country.

The aim was to share the “success of litigation” with employees as well. Were SPG to win the VW case, “the financial rewards might be pretty unparalleled for someone working in Liverpool”, he suggested.

SPG was looking at other group actions, such as the transvaginal mesh and contraceptive implant cases, Mr Goodhead said.

The firm also has three Brazilian lawyers working in London on a confidential project.

SPG has “very substantial financial backing” from the US, Mr Goodhead said, and its presence in the UK might also bring some American third-party litigation funders over here too, he predicted.

Sanders Phillips has recovered more than $1bn for its clients from major corporations including VW, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Mr Williams insisted that there was “definitely a loss of value to the cars” as a result of the emissions scandal, because the vehicles were less efficient and the VW brand was damaged.

He said that, in the US, VW paid damages of $5-10,000 per car (£3,870-£7,740). This was a “good litmus” for the level of damages that might be available in the UK.

Aman Johal, director of Your Lawyers, said: “We are pleased to confirm that there is a collaboration between Your Lawyers and SPG Law. It’s a fantastic development for the action and should be a benefit to all the claimants in the fight against Volkswagen.”

In a formal statement issued by the firm, Mr Pogust said: “We have chosen Liverpool as our UK base because we’re big believers in utilising the talent and resource of the region as well as the strong belief that Liverpool is a great place to start a major law firm such as ours.”

Mr Goodhead added: “We really feel that the considerable expertise and ‘US approach’ of fighting hard for claimants will have a real impact on the market and benefit UK consumers enormously.”

“We want to try and bring group litigation cases to the High Court in Liverpool because not all cases need to be tried in London.”

The firm also attracted endorsements from Jake Berry MP, minister for the Northern Powerhouse – “As a lawyer myself, I have long believed that you do not need to be in London to enjoy a successful legal career,” he said – and Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson.

Excello Libertas provides full operational, IT, HR, administrative and regulatory systems including case and finance management, professional indemnity insurance, secretarial and paralegal services, office facilities and marketing support for law firms either already in business or looking to set up.

Managing director George Bisnought said: “Excello Libertas provides a suite of best-of-breed operational support services and will work well for international firms looking to establish a UK operation, as well as for UK firms looking to restructure and off load the burden of law firm administration and management and develop a more sustainable client-focused practice.

“We’ve also had interest from teams looking to move out from big practices and quickly set-up on their own.”

SPG partner Marc Grossman said: “The beauty of the model is that Excello Libertas provided an instant structure and platform for us to launch in the UK.”

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