James Libson is the Executive Partner of Mishcon de Reya and the Head of Mishcon Private. He acts for high profile individuals, corporations, families, offices and charities, providing a broad range of legal expertise which includes defamation, privacy, employment, commercial disputes and litigation.
I came to be a lawyer by fluke. We were so, so lucky when I came into the profession because it was so much easier than it is today.
I’ve always had an interest in the Middle East. I did an Arabic degree and spent quite a lot of time in the region studying and then went back after I had completed my degree.
I did a lot of litigation early on in my career. I have headed up both the Employment and Litigation departments at Mishcon. In 2008 we decided that because so much of our work had a private aspect to it we would create a separate private practice. It would contain the tax, trusts and all the traditional private client services, but also the non-traditional ones like art and immigration and all the stuff we are good at. That’s when Mishcon Private was created and I’ve been head of the department ever since.
My cases usually centre round a dispute. And the disputes can be very different: they can be in the media, they can be in the British Courts or I can be supervising the process elsewhere. I also do a lot of arbitration.
It’s your experience rather than your technical expertise that gets you to the table. You get close to people, to families and to companies and become an advisory lawyer, standing by people’s side as they go through various processes. With experience and getting to know people over a long time, they come to you for different things.
You become the guide around the firm for your clients. You can also make sure that the firm’s external networks are available to clients as well, so they get the best possible exposure to the other sorts of professional advice.
I act for a number of prominent families around the whole region and have done so since around 2000. A lot of the work that I have done over the last years has been about investment disputes in other areas around the world and in particular in Africa.
People who are investing in difficult locations, where they don’t necessarily want to rely on the court systems in those locations or in their host nations, often use English law. We use English arbitrary proceedings or continental arbitrary proceedings because clients tend to feel more confident in those processes.
Loyalty is very important. It’s necessary in both directions. We are committed to what our clients are trying to achieve. We’re with them through the difficult times and we celebrate their successes.
As much as you need to be a great lawyer, you need to be really on top of your game in terms of what’s happening in the world. Knowing the politics of the region is really important. It’s less about travelling and much more about the way in which you interact with people and understand cultural norms and the way business is done in different regions.
The launch of Mayfair Private in Dubai is an indication of how important the Middle East is to us. Nothing stays still, which creates challenges for people all the time. That’s where we can help.
I don’t think there’s a clear delineation between work and play anymore. You’ve just got to relax into it.