The Lawbore Interview: Janet Legrand QC

Janet Legrand QC (Hon) is the former Senior Partner and Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper, a global business law firm with offices in 40 countries. She is an international disputes specialist. 

Janet started out as a trainee in what was then Lovell White & King, and is now Hogan Lovells. Like everyone else, she did six months in each of four departments, and loved litigation. The practise at Lovells was very international by nature, and for the first four years she did nothing but international arbitration work.  She then combined that with English High Court litigation.  Her work has always been international in nature.  She joined DLA Piper as a Partner in 1991.

For the last six years, Janet has been advising the Government of Timor-Leste on its maritime boundary dispute with the Commonwealth of Australia; an inter-state dispute. The two States had different views as to where the boundary line between them should be as a matter of public international law.  At issue, for Timor-Leste, a new State created in 2002 after many years of conflict, was not only the final determination of its boundaries but also the ownership of the oil and gas deposits beneath the seabed.

Janet and her team conducted some satellite litigation in the Hague before the International Court of Justice which prompted a dialogue between the States, but ultimately the boundary dispute was resolved by a Compulsory Conciliation process under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This was groundbreaking because it was the first time the Compulsory Conciliation mechanism had been used.  It took about 18 months for the conciliation process to successfully conclude. Janet Legrand’s last case ended with the Maritime Boundary Treaty which her team had negotiated between the two States, being ratified.

Janet firmly believes that “litigators are born, not made” and emphasises that not everyone is cut out for it.  Litigation can be very complex and technical.  It is also highly strategic and can be very confrontational, although the best outcome is often an agreement, rather than a confrontation. You either love it or you hate it.

There are many styles of litigation. Clients come to you at a time of crisis.  It is really important to be calm and confident and to have the temperament and ability to take all the stress, anxiety and worries from your client onto your shoulders. The first thing a client should feel when they meet you is comforted that you know what you’re doing and that you’re the right person to resolve their dispute.  You also need to be able to resolve the dispute well, and that means having a track record of success. You achieve that in part by understanding what the client needs to achieve, and then developing a strategy that will take them there. Not everyone wants or needs their day in court.  Often the best outcome would be to secure an agreed resolution and an appropriate settlement. On the other hand, there are occasions, particularly when representing governments, when the issue at stake raises a point of principle and it can be vital to secure a judgment. Which is what Janet did for the Government of Zambia in their anti-corruption proceedings against their former President. That dispute was not capable of settlement, nor was that appropriate. It was essential to secure a judgment that proved the misappropriation of government money. A successful litigator achieves the client’s desired outcome.

Janet stood for election to the partnership Board of DLA Piper in 1998.   She was the first woman on the Board and the first woman to hold a leadership position in the firm.   She remained on the Board for 20 years being re-elected on several occasions, and holding a number of senior positions in the firm.  She became Senior Partner and Board Chair in 2008, at the beginning of the financial crisis, and led the firm  for 4 years, during which time DLA Piper conducted a successful Australian merger, navigated through the choppy-waters of the financial crisis and emerged stronger.  She was appointed as Senior Partner and Global Co-Chair again in 2017-18, on an interim basis.

Janet is also Deputy Chair of the Council of City, University of London as well as a Trustee of our Students’ Union.  Many of the sabbatical officers she has worked with have been students at the City Law School. 

Janet was a founder Board member of PRIME, an alliance of law firms across the UK, committed to improving access to the legal profession through work experience.  The 60 member firms all recognise the importance of the legal sector being open to talent from all economic backgrounds and many of them, including DLA Piper use contextual recruitment as a way of trying to break down inherent biases in the recruitment process.

Janet is heavily involved in DLA Piper’s Head Start and Global Scholarships programmes.   These programmes are aimed at widening participation and access to the law in the UK and increasing the capacity of future lawyers and leaders in developing countries. The outcome the firm seeks is improved access to the legal profession for a cohort of young people who might not otherwise have ended up as lawyers and the development of the rule of law and access to justice in under-served regions.  

In 2018 Janet was proud to be appointed Honorary Queen’s Counsel by the Lord Chancellor. In the same year, she was named ‘Woman Lawyer of the Year’ at the Law Society Excellence Awards and presented with a lifetime achievement award at the British Legal Awards.  She believes that although there has been progress on diversity and inclusion in the 100 years that women have been allowed to practice law, the pace of change is still too slow.   Real progress, Janet Legrand argues, will have been made when there is nothing exceptional about women in leadership positions and no need for a ‘Woman Lawyer of the Year’ award, simply ‘Lawyer of the Year’.

Miriam Ahmad, who interviewed Janet for this blog, is a first year law undergraduate at City, and a DLA Piper Head Start student. Miriam is also one of the team of Lawbore journalists.

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