Following her high-profile move from Allen & Overy to Kirkland & Ellis at the end of last year, Leaders League talks to IP litigator Nicola Dagg about how her first 100 days at the US firm have gone.
Leaders League (LL): What attracted you to Kirkland & Ellis?
What attracted me was a once in a lifetime chance to move my practice over to a platform that is so strong for IP, which is one of the four main pillars of the firm along with the transactional practice, complex commercial litigation and restructuring. The key was that I was able to move over with my team and enable them to grow; Daniel Lim and Katie Coltart are now partners and there is a cohort of other lawyers who will quickly mature to partners in the Kirkland system.
It is phenomenal to be an IP litigator in this firm because the firm is a powerhouse of IP, it has great depth. To be able to build careers for my amazing team around me on this platform was very compelling. It also helps that there is a lot of synergy between the clients I traditionally act for and Kirkland’s existing clients. The thing that makes me buzz is clients and looking after clients, the Kirkland platform allows you to do that. The firm is very well managed, which means there is more time to look after your clients rather than focus heavily on management tasks. There is an amazing support structure too, with fantastic support staff. As a result, very little of your time gets mopped up by non-core activities.
When it comes to IP litigation, one of the things I really like about Kirkland is the way we do cases here. The Kirkland way is to prepare for trial right from the get-go, either the pitch or kick off meeting. This means the work is all about developing a case theory, developing the winning themes, generally building a case to win a trial and seeing how to get there through good lawyering. This seems to fit with what the clients want as well, they want a deep dive early on, they want to know what case strategy is early on. There is a lot of encouragement within the firm to adopt this approach.
LL: How did your clients react?
Very well. Many of the clients I had were already working with Kirkland, they were very familiar with the firm as an IP powerhouse. One client who I was talking to shortly after joining said he didn’t need convincing on the quality of Kirkland in IP, this is indicative of the general attitude of my clients. They understand this firm’s platform will allow them to dovetail their US IP strategy with their European strategies. This has allowed me to work together with my US colleagues. Some of the clients from my previous firm have now turned to Kirkland’s US offices for their US-related work, which is fantastic. My team is now representing most clients we were representing at my previous firm, which shows how well the clients have reacted.
LL: What has been the biggest challenge faced since you joined?
The biggest challenge has been time management; I’ve only really been here 100 days or so and I am kept incredibly busy, which has been fabulous, but it means the pipeline of cases filled up very quickly. I have to combine team building with relationship building and being out and about meeting clients. We have been in rapid growth mode and are doing a lot of hiring. By Q2 2019 we will have hit 17 lawyers in the new IP litigation practice in London. Juggling casework, teambuilding and meeting new clients and colleagues has been the real challenge. The fantastic support infrastructure here has made this possible. I feel like I can breathe now after the first 100 days or so, we now have more resources in the team, we have our systems up and running. The thing that comes easiest to us is looking after clients as we have been trained our whole careers to do this. It has been fun to apply the Kirkland approach to client work, including the joined-up strategy with the US offices.
It is very fast moving at Kirkland, the first 100 days have flown by. The system here has a lot of flex, which means things can be tweaked quite quickly. When we have been very busy in our first 100 days, we have been able to rely on patent litigators in our US offices coming to London to help us out.
LL: What will the next 100 days hold?
Bedding in and integrating the new associates we have hired. The great thing is that when you have a strong pipeline of work, associates have to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into it, integrating on the job as it were.
We have a big new project which is a global piece of patent litigation pending in more than 30 countries across the world. This will require careful and systematic project management and an overall strategy to go with it. London is leading this. Now we have more associate resources, for me and the other partners on the team the next stage will be more integration with the firmwide key IP clients, deepen the relationships there. There is also going to be more building synergies with other areas of litigation within Kirkland. There is a lot of synergy with the antitrust litigators on the client work, with the arbitration work, with the white-collar crime group. Now that we have completed the first round of bedding in as an IP practice, we are keen to maximise on the synergies with the other litigation teams at the firm. Clients are calling for this too. It was apparent during a recent Asia trip, with clients there asking about our wider litigation capabilities. These clients, who have very sophisticated in-house legal teams, want to build lasting and long-term lawyer relationships they can rely on for their disputes.
LL: How does the IP department fit into Kirkland’s wider London strategy?
IP is a central pillar of the firm, so our London IP practice helps hold up this huge platform. The big corporates, whether they are the big life sciences or tech clients, have constant and repeated cycles of need for big-ticket and cutting-edge patent litigation. Basically, Kirkland’s strategy is to do what the clients need, and clients right now need a global approach for global products. When it comes to IP litigation, the cases are high stakes, bet-the-company cases where cutting edge advice and high-quality lawyering with clear strategy are needed. Kirkland is synonymous with those things.
LL: You are one of several recent high-profile hires by Kirkland joining from a Magic Circle firm. Do you expect this trend to continue?
I don’t know the answer to that but what I can say is that Kirkland is a very fast-moving, high-energy and entrepreneurial place to be and there are moments where I wonder why I didn’t do this 10 years ago.
It is phenomenal how strong the brand is for US clients as well as other clients. So, for those partners in Magic Circle firms or other more traditional law firm models, who have a strong practice and this practice fits into a US firm’s strategy, it is a rejuvenating experience to join them. You can get up and running very quickly. This firm is very solutions-driven. My experience is that hiring the highest quality talent for your team comes naturally. I can only speak for myself, but for those partners who enjoy the fast-moving environment and the runway you are given to take off, combined with a strong brand name associated with quality, it is a very refreshing experience. But you do need to go into a situation where your practice is key to the firm, where the firm is very motivated to support it. It is not like Kirkland is going around knocking on the doors of Magic Circle firms, it is more self-selecting with those key lawyers naturally drawn to Kirkland and other US firms.
US firms are very good at integrating laterals and integrating laterals joining with their teams. This integration happens by means of keeping lawyers busy, you integrate on the job. Anybody worried about integration in a US firm can be reassured that it happens very quickly, there is a very fast integration done in quite a fun way for all. The US firms will only hire lawyers of the highest quality, which means that you are trusted by others at the firm the minute you join, and you are trusted to be put in front of clients.
Some people may say you are going into an eat-what-you-kill system with potentially aggressive behaviour, but my experience is the opposite, there is a lot of self-assuredness and people are just trying to get on with their job and continue providing their clients with the best specialist who is most apt to serve their client needs. People are too busy and focused on serving clients to obsess over who is getting credit.
LL: Turning to more general trends, what have been the key external developments shaping your practice over the past few months?
Looking at the sector-specific developments first, there has been an increase in the amount of tech/electronic patent litigation driven by ‘fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory’ (FRAND) decisions made by the Courts. The English Courts have shown a lot of flexibility in patent litigation over the course of the last two years, which is attracting a lot of work from the US. They are also very open to declaratory relief, a great tool for giving international corporates legal and commercial certainty promptly. The quality of judges here is very high.
In life sciences, our innovative clients are really preparing quite early to launch their new biological medicines and needing to clear a path to do so. That needs a lot of strategic advice early on. In the biosimilars patent litigation world, we see our clients very much wanting to use the tools that the English Courts provide, the declarations of relief, so that they can get their medicines to market asap.
In the tech world, there is a bit of an Eastwards shift, a lot of the tech giants are Korean, Chinese and the importance of that part of the world has been growing a lot. It will be interesting to see if there is accompanying growth of dispute resolution mechanisms.
On the client side, I see a lot of clients wanting to harmonise way they run their cases across the world. Courts and judges are all talking to each other too to harmonise approaches on remedies for infringement of patents.
I see a real need for diversity in law firm practices, clients ask about this quite rightly at pitch stage. Our team members also want it, and it drives innovative thinking. I have the flexibility to build this much needed diverse team at Kirkland.
With Brexit happening, there is a bit of a hiatus there in terms of recognition of UK judgements, in terms of where the UK courts sit in the EU infrastructure. That is a theme that is emerging in commercial cases in the High Court. There is a large degree of uncertainty.