The flying judge

Sir Gavin Lightman, sometime judge in the English High Court, now comes to Israel once a month as consultant to a Tel Aviv firm practising English law, and to visit his grandchildren.

For the past six months, Sir Gavin Lightman has been travelling to and fro on the London-Tel Aviv route. Each month, he flies to Israel, stays here for four days, and flies back to London. Perhaps sometime in the future this arrangement will be reversed, and he will decide to spend four days a month in London. But until then, Lightman, formerly a judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court, the Administrative Court, and the Competition Court in London, is continuing to act as an external consultant for an English law firm that operates from Tel Aviv.

The firm, Asserson Law Offices, is particulalrly proud of Lightman. It seems that this is the first time that a former judge from the old country has joined an Israeli law firm. Well, not precisely Israeli, just located in Israel. Assersons takes care to make it clear that it has no connection to Israeli law, and that the firm deals with English law only. Lightman, who was a barrister and QC in England for 30 years, besides his years on the bench, fits in well with the set-up of the Israeli firm.

"There's no doubt we are a unique animal in the legal landscape," Sir Gavin told "Globes", looking out at the Tel Aviv skyline. "We are an English law firm, dealing in English law, but unique because we are here and not in London. We have Israeli clients that have businesses in Britain, property in Britain, and cases in the English courts. It's important to understand that the degree of professionalization in litigation in the English courts is high. We also deal in international law, we have French companies. If you need legal advice unconnected to Israeli law, you're welcome to come to us."

How did you get to join an Israeli law firm?

"I have a longstanding connection to Israel. My wife and I have visited Israel many times, and I even bought an apartment in Jerusalem 25 years ago. All three of my children studied at yeshiva; my eldest daughter came on aliya and she lives and works in Israel. I met the father of one of the partners at a synagogue in London, and we became good friends. Trevor Asserson (the firm's senior partner, Y.Y.) and I also became good friends, and when I stepped down as a judge I thought that perhaps I might be able to find a role in Israel. This was also an opportunity for me to come to Israel regularly to see my grandchildren."

Is the English court system fulfilling its task properly?

"The courts in England work well. But the big problem is costs. The costs of running a court case in England are very high, far beyond the means of the ordinary citizen. We had public funding for citizens who could not finance litigation. The problem is that public funding has been cut back sharply, and this is a practical problem, because it has been restricted to criminal cases only. So firms-funds have arisen providing finance for conducting civil suits in return for a share of the compensation received at the end of the process. I serve as chairman of the investment committee of one of these funds."

How do you know which cases to invest in?

"This is where my expertise comes into play. My job is to predict the result of the trial. Say the firm agrees that it will finance the case, and in return receive 20% of the damages obtained at the end of the proceedings. My speciality is to examine the chances that money will be received at the end of the case, and whether it pays, given the expected costs of the case until it finishes. This is where I have to express my opinion. This is a heavy responsibility, because you take on cases where the aggregate costs of running them can reach several million pounds. So you have to win a few cases to cover these costs."

To be able to predict the success of a lawsuit, there has to be a certain level of certainty in the law. In Israel, there is a great deal of uncertainty, because of the judicial discretion that the Supreme Court allows the judges.

"You have to be careful when you talk about discretion. The courts have no discretion in the question of what the law is. They must identify what the law is in a particular area, but it can't be said that the law is uncertain. A much harder subject is rulings on matters of fact. It's very hard to predict how a particular witness will be received by the judges, whether the court will believe him and accept him as a reliable witness. As a barrister, I would meet the client in order to decide whether the court would believe him or not.

"There are matters in which the judge has discretion, for example, in the order he hands down after the verdict. That's something that is very hard to predict. You have to rely on experience. I was a litigator for 30 years until I was appointed to the bench, and after that I was a judge, so I have a measure of experience in predicting how a case will end."

What's your success rate?

"Pretty good."

Since leaving the judicial bench five years ago, Lightman has been involved in various international mediation channels in different countries: in Britain, Singapore, and Hong Kong, among other places.

In Israel, mediation has gathered momentum mainly because of the red-tape, and because it takes a very long time to conclude a case in court.

"That's certainly a good reason. There are three ways of ending a dispute. One is to file a suit in court. That's very costly and there could be long delays, because after a verdict is given it's possible to appeal, sometimes even twice. There's also a risk, because the other side can go bankrupt and lose all his assets.

"The second possibility is arbitration. The sides can choose an arbitrator, who may be an expert in the field, in contrast to a judge who is not necessarily an expert in the area in which he rules; and they can set the timetable. The problem is that arbitration can be very expensive, especially international arbitration. And here there is actually an advantage to the court, because you don't have to pay the judge.

"The third possibility for resolving the dispute is mediation. That carries a risk, and it has a cost, because you have to pay the mediator. But the number of cases that reach a compromise after mediation is fairly high. In mediation, what you try to do is to find a compromise, a settlement between the parties, a way of rehabilitating relations so that there can be commercial relations between them in the future."

Although Lightman does not function as an active lawyer, after a career spanning many years in a variety of roles in the legal arena, he is nostalgic for it, for legal representation and for his role as a court litigator. "The happiest period of my life was when I was an lawyer, much more than when I was a judge. I like cross-examinations and the excitement of running a case. Judging is not the same thing. A degree of emotional detachment is required of you when you sit on the bench."

Asserson Law Offices, where Sir Gavin acts as an external consultant, is the largest law firm in Israel specializing in English law. Although it is located in Israel, the firm deals exclusively with English law in all areas of commerce and property. This year, the firm was ranked a leader in dispute resolution and arbitration and as an expert in English law by the international guides The Legal 500 and Chambers Global.

"The fee we charge is more Israeli than English," Sir Gavin says with fine English humor. "We are in a price range that is about 50-60% of what is normal in Britain, and that also applies to companies located in Britain. We hire the cream of the cream; the proportion of Oxford and Cambridge graduates at the firm is very high in comparison with other firms. But because we are in Israel, our prices are lower. So we offer a unique product to companies located in Israel operating under English law."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on June 23, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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