A conversation with Jon Felce and Natalie Todd who joined CYK at the beginning of April from PCB Byrne. They share their views on the current global disputes market and tell us why they chose to join CYK.
1. Give us a quick overview of your backgrounds and career to date.
Jon Felce: I trained at Jones Day and was fortunate to spend most of my training contract immersed in disputes work, before qualifying into the Global Disputes department there. After a decade at Jones Day, I joined civil fraud boutique PCB Litigation (as it then was) where I spent eight years (about five of which were as a partner) before joining CYK. I have a broad commercial disputes practice and over the past several years I have focussed in particular on fraud, enforcement and asset recovery work (in both commercial and sovereign debt cases). This has involved being at the forefront of some ground-breaking cases, including the first reported judgment establishing that a search order can be granted against a non-cause of action defendant, and obtaining orders to crack passwords to access electronic devices containing information about assets. There have also been some memorable stories along the way – serving a worldwide freezing order in the middle of the night on an oligarch surrounded by bodyguards at a gym in Chelsea stands out, as does a case involving forgeries, high value artwork and car chases through Paris (I wasn’t driving!).
Natalie Todd: I trained and qualified in 2005 at SJ Berwin. I joined Signature Litigation soon after it started up in 2012, before then moving to Taylor Wessing for four years, I then joined PCB Litigation (now PCB Byrne) where I became a partner and in April 2022, moved to CYK. I have worked on an eclectic range of litigation cases, acting for one of the first Eastern European oligarchs facing allegations of fraud and bribery of foreign public officials, advising the trustee in bankruptcy appointed to recover monies lost in the largest Ponzi scheme to hit Jamaica and representing an insolvent Russian bank on a worldwide freezing order and search order in one of Russia’s largest ever frauds. I focus on commercial and banking disputes work with particular specialism in fraud, enforcement and asset recovery work.
2. Tell us why you decided to join CYK? What made the firm stand out for you?
JF: It helped that we knew some of the team already! We knew that they – and the rest of the firm – are excellent and creative lawyers who do some very interesting, complex, high-profile work, and that CYK punches above its weight. We also knew that the team are great people who we would really enjoy working with, and that the firm has a really collaborative ethos.
NT: Definitely, Jon. There was real synergy between us in terms of both the areas in which we specialise and the culture of the firm. We felt that we would fit in seamlessly, and that is what has happened! Everyone is invested in the firm, and equally the firm is invested in its staff and their development and growth.
JF: CYK was also attractive to us as a specialist conflict-free disputes practice. Our areas of expertise – fraud, asset recovery and enforcement work in particular – complement the existing key practice areas of the firm, not least CYK’s really strong technology practice (especially in the crypto space and through the firm’s heavy involvement in the Tech Disputes Network, which it helped to create) and its expertise in financial services, company/partnership and private wealth disputes.
NT: Coupled with the exciting growth plans, and the real dynamism and entrepreneurism about the firm, joining CYK was an easy decision for us.
3. How do you see the market for dispute resolution at present?
NT: The post-Covid world has put financial pressure on almost every company and entity worldwide. The market has been waiting for the wave of insolvencies and we are starting to see these now. Much of our practice has an overlap with insolvency litigation and we are routinely asked to act for trustees in bankruptcy and liquidators.
JF: On top of this, there is the complex political climate caused by the war in Ukraine and many firms are considering some mandates very carefully. The sanctions imposed, coupled with many jurisdictions striving for more transparency when it comes to assets, mean that we are already being instructed on more enforcement and asset recovery mandates and expect to see much more of this work going forward including in the private wealth space.
4. What are the most significant opportunities for disputes boutiques?
JF: One of the primary benefits of working at a specialist disputes practice such as CYK is that it is conflict-free. It means that there is a lot of opportunity for referral work where other firms have legal or commercial conflicts. A classic example are firms with banking clients. I’ve been involved in a lot of work acting against banks for victims of fraud, for example in authorised push payment fraud cases where I have successfully targeted the fraudster’s bank. Had I been working at a firm with a roster of banking clients, I probably would have had to turn the work down and refer it to a firm like CYK.
NT: One of the other benefits is that you tend to see more trial work as opposed to advisory work which you sometimes find in the larger full-service firms. The nature of the work Jon and I do enhances this, because we are frequently in Court on interim applications – I think on one case in which we were involved there were around a dozen hearings in around six weeks. As a result, we really are litigation and arbitration specialists as we have much more exposure to the practice of appearing before Courts and Tribunals, as well as the law itself. That is something that we both really enjoy. The virtue of being smaller in size also means you can move much more quickly and nimbly in terms of taking on mandates and making time-sensitive decisions.
5. How do you see the international market evolving?
JF: I think that the international legal market is becoming ever more closely connected, especially in disputes work. There are some real opportunities to work together with lawyers from other jurisdictions, and to refer work to each other. I often need support from overseas lawyers because many disputes involve foreign law issues or jurisdiction issues, for example. Not least in the current economic climate, I anticipate that the real growth space will be in enforcement cases, where there are real opportunities for collaboration between lawyers across borders. In particular, England is a great place to enforce arbitral awards and foreign judgments, not least given the very powerful tools available in support from the English courts, and the whole team at CYK is well-versed in this type of work. Where sovereigns are involved, an added appeal of enforcing in England has arisen as a result of Brexit and from some caselaw here and in Europe, and I have been involved in some really interesting cases in this space.
NT: I agree. The connectivity of the international market is clearly illustrated by the shared impact of the global pandemic, global supply chain issues and the shock waves created by the war in Ukraine, but equally, increased digital connectivity is one of the few positives to come out of the Covid period, in that it has enabled the international community to thrive and expand over video calls, webinars and online conferences. I am on the European Steering Committee for IWIRC which has developed and expanded at a much quicker rate by virtue of the ease of communicating virtually.
6. What are your personal goals for your practice now that you’ve joined CYK?
NT: We are both looking forward to reconnecting with the market and enhancing our networks in the fraud, enforcement and asset recovery world. We have some exciting visions for the market going forward and are keen to connect with like-minded individuals who share our enthusiasm and drive and desire to collaborate, particularly among ‘Next Gen’ lawyers.
JF: Of course, it goes without saying that we want to further establish ourselves as experts in the fraud, enforcement and asset recovery sphere, and to aid CYK’s and its team’s growth. And with one eye also on seizing the opportunity in this post-Covid world to improve work-life balance and to address working practices so as to promote wellbeing and other similar concepts.
7. You’ve mentioned the importance of ‘Next Gen’ lawyers – can you tell us a bit more about this?
JF: Sure, well the idea of a next generation international lawyers’ network is something I had been advocating for a long time in the fraud and asset recovery and general disputes spaces. It seemed to me that there was a real gap in the market for a platform that would allow the rising stars of the area to develop their profiles and their contacts. Nat shared the same thinking, and we found some like minds a couple of years ago and are looking forward to continuing to progress the network.
NT: It’s about giving the next generation opportunities and a voice. We need to inject some new life into some of the old values and attitudes in the legal market. What better way than to support the next generation of lawyers?!
8. How do you unwind outside work?
JF: Aside from spending time with family and friends, I’m a sports addict – playing and watching any sport (and I mean any sport!). CYK’s excellent sports practice was therefore an added incentive for joining! If I had to choose any one sport, football is my real passion. I play every Sunday and if anyone fancies any five-a-side during the week, let me know! I am also doing an Italian course at the moment to brush up my language skills (my wife is from Tuscany), and when I’m not using that to watch Italian crime dramas or perfect my Tuscan ragù, a glass of dessert wine (and some cheese) never goes amiss when I am trying to relax.
NT: Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m not very good at sitting still! I also enjoy sports and have recently got back into rowing on the Thames. While my marathon running days are now behind me, I still enjoy running with my sprocker spaniel Twix and the daily cycling race along the Embankment on the way to and from work is also a great way to de-stress. My two young children are a great distraction from the stresses of life although they tend to augment my stress levels rather than relieve them! I enjoy socialising with my family and friends and a nice glass of wine at the end of the day (not dessert wine though in case anyone is buying!).