Although school aptitude tests pointed towards a legal career I found the study of law generally rather dry, but enjoyed business-related subjects such as contract and commercial law. At that stage, my intention was to go into business and I started a small publishing business while still a student. Out of curiosity I applied to two City law firms and was called to an interview by Herbert Smith. To my amazement, I was offered articles. It seemed like too good an opportunity to turn down.
My first seat was with Charles Plant (now SRA board chair), who became my mentor. I immediately found the intellectual challenge of applying the law to achieve a commercial purpose, combined with the human context, exciting. The first case I worked on as an articled clerk in 1981 was an arbitration for the British National Oil Corporation, which led to the decoupling of North Sea oil prices from Opec prices. I’ve worked on cases in the oil and gas, and other energy industries ever since.
As a new partner, I was handed a huge litigation project which presented unique challenges. When Sky and BSB merged in 1990, each had competing technologies – BSB’s squarial system was half way to digital, but was dropped in favour of the cheaper Sky PAL. As a result, BSkyB was sued by suppliers for £289m. In the early days at least, the outcome really was about the survival of the company. We fought, and in the end won five cases at final judgment. We settled the rest for £9m.
The Woolf reforms have had a significant impact on commercial litigation during my career. At the time, I was one of a few people to question whether the reforms would achieve their aims. I believe they led to increased costs through the demands of case management.
After 32 very happy years at Herbert Smith [Freehills] I am moving to Quinn Emanuel. Among the many attractions are its ‘disputes only’ proposition. It’s becoming harder to be a litigator in a large, full-service international firm because an increasing proportion of instructions have to be turned away due to conflicts.
As a student doing holiday jobs, I recall looking at my watch every five minutes – disappointed so little time had passed since the last time I checked. I have never had a boring day in the law.
Ted Greeno is a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills