Ted Greeno has conducted high-value complex disputes in all the higher English courts and in international arbitrations for over 35 years and has led teams to numerous awards. His work has ranged across most types of dispute, from corporate actions to contract, tax and professional negligence cases, to name a few, and he is particularly well known for his work in the energy sector.
What attracted you to litigation as your speciality?
I thought litigation suited my personality better than corporate law. I am naturally more of a problem-solver than a “discuss” type.
Which case has been your most interesting to date, and why?
That’s a tough one. I have been so lucky to have done many fascinating cases: the BSkyB merger cases, CATS v Enron, Sky v EDS and the Buncefield litigation, to name a few, and leaving aside arbitrations. Perhaps the most enjoyable was acting for Plácido Domingo in the 1980s, which involved a number of trips to Covent Garden to watch him perform. However, I will go for Grand Metropolitan v William Hill. The main case was an accounting expert determination arising from the sale of William Hill (the bookmaker) to Brent Walker but it also gave rise to two court actions. In the first, we obtained summary judgment for deferred consideration of £55 million despite a cross-claim of £350 million. I think that was the largest contested summary judgment up to that time (1990). Then we brought a rectification claim, which was contingent on the expert misconstruing the accounting schedule, a mistake that could not be appealed once a determination had been made. It was highly technical, as well as tactical, and involved diametrically opposed evidence from the chief executives, finance directors, senior corporate partners and accounting experts on each side, over a four-week trial. Despite the controversial facts – never ideal in a rectification case – we won. The case was interesting because of the particular intellectual challenge of having to thread the argument through the eye of a needle, despite the apparent lack of consensus on the evidence, which was only possible if the technical accounting context was fully understood by the judge.
How does your expertise in international arbitration enhance your litigation practice?
I would put it the other way round. I think the intellectual rigour required to be a successful litigator gives you an advantage in international arbitration. I strongly believe that arbitration practitioners benefit from working on litigation cases as well.
What advantages does a client gain when instructing a solicitor with rights of audience, as opposed to a barrister?
None – it entirely depends on who is the solicitor and who is the barrister. I have never felt at a disadvantage to a barrister save once, when I replaced myself with Jonathan Sumption (as he then was – he hadn’t adopted the title Lord Sumption yet). It was a good decision.
As the chair of Quinn Emanuel’s energy litigation practice, what are your priorities for the practice group’s development over the next five years?
There is no doubt in my mind that you need to understand the industry and the contracts – and their history – to give your client the best chance of winning their case. There are so few experts in the market and I would like them to join us. So growing the team is a priority. I also want us to become known as the firm to go to for the most difficult cases. That is what we have been doing and where I think we can add the most value.
How have the oil and gas, and power sectors changed since you first started practising?
As the North Sea has declined, so have the number of major disputes going to court. Internationally, however, the number of disputes has grown but they mostly go to arbitration. In the power sector, there were no disputes when I started. Everything was state-owned. With the introduction of private sector capital, however, there are many more disputes both in the UK and internationally.
What qualities make a successful litigator?
Litigation is more of a black art than a science. You need to be creative and to have a feel for what will work and what won’t and you need to be able to adjust your strategy as circumstances change. Like a good jazz musician, you have to be technically excellent in order to be able to improvise. That is a given. But then you need to be able to read and influence people and events, work out a simple path through the complexities of the case and have the confidence in your judgement to follow it or change it as required. An understanding of what needs to be done, and what does not need to be done, so that you focus on achieving your objective, is also vital. Too much time (and cost) is wasted on doing unnecessary things. I think that both clients and counsel are responsible for such over-lawyering, which is a problem that tinkering with the court rules has consistently aggravated over the years.
Your career has been very decorated to date. Is there anything else you would like to achieve?
Over the years I have tried to help promote London as a venue both for litigation and arbitration and to support the Commercial Court in particular. I believe we have much to offer the international business community. However, I am concerned that, over the past 10 years, our politicians have been running down the judicial system by starving it of resources and even taxing litigants to pay for a system which, by maintaining the rule of law, serves everyone, including those who never actually litigate. In doing so, they take both the rule of law and London’s pre-eminence for granted. So if there is one thing I would like to achieve, it is to help educate our politicians in the importance of English courts and the rule of law to the future of our island nation post-Brexit.