The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Ulrich Payne, Associate- Litigation
Ulrich Payne represents clients in high-value, multijurisdictional disputes involving insolvency, restructuring, financial products and services, private equity, and contentious boardroom and shareholder issues. He has experience in managing complex, cross-border asset recovery efforts, as well as conducting regulatory investigations for investment banks and other financial or international corporate institutions. Mr. Payne has advised on numerous high-value, cross-border disputes ranging in multimillion to multibillion U.S. dollar amounts across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Russia and Asia.
Mr. Payne has been recognized in multiple legal directories, including a 2019 Chambers Global ranking in Dispute Resolution, Restructuring & Insolvency, which described him as “a very gutsy litigator who is fabulous with clients and technically excellent on commercial cases.”
He also serves the Cayman Islands government as a contributor to legislative subcommittees tasked with advising on the impact of important proposed legislation, such as contingency and conditional fee and third-party funding arrangements, as well as identifying and resolving procedural and legal issues arising in dissenting shareholder proceedings.
Before joining Kobre & Kim, Mr. Payne practiced at Ogier in the Cayman Islands and previously at Kirkland & Ellis in London, where he focused on a wide range of disputes, including complex financial products, investment funds, contentious restructuring, and insolvency matters.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice area is focused on highly complex multi-jurisdictional disputes. In particular, I handle disputes relating to investment banking, hedge funds, insolvency and debtor-creditor issues, and shareholder/boardroom disputes, all of which often relate to offshore jurisdictions and involve fraud and asset tracing elements, as well as international enforcement work. These disputes include appearing in the Grand Court, Court of Appeal, and Privy Council, as well as engaging in institutional and ad hoc arbitrations.
What types of clients do you represent?
Typically, our firm is brought in by lawyers whose clients are stuck in sensitive situations involving conflicts of interest or in disputes that may require a more niche, distinctive, and specialized skill set to resolve. In this regard, I have represented a wide range of different types of clients—from ultra-high-net-worth individuals and private clients to leading global financial institutions, such as investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, and insurance houses—in high-value disputes.
As I am based offshore in the Cayman Islands, these clients often have concurrent onshore disputes and almost always come from all around the world, particularly from countries at the heart of major business and financial activity, such as the United Kingdom, the United States—especially New York, Mainland China, and the Middle East.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I have worked on everything from boardroom disputes and insolvency actions to arbitrations and standard contract disputes. For example, one matter I am working on involves the representation of the chair and executives of a Chinese company who were accused of fraud and became drawn into widely publicized conflicts with the board, shareholders, and creditors. The clients held assets in companies registered offshore, which is where I got involved in crafting winding up defenses. In another recent matter, I am representing receivers of a company in proceedings in the Cayman Islands after the borrower objected to their appointment and powers.
How did you choose this practice area?
This practice area chose me. I wanted to be a lawyer for many years, and I found that the law’s tactics and nature keep you on your toes. Becoming a litigator sparked my interest because it involves constantly appraising revisions to the world of law, as well as strategically and creatively thinking about the tactics that can help achieve a client’s goal or minimize their risk and maximize their returns. In a broader sense, my interest stems from my view that the law is also a progressing step in understanding human nature and working with people through different communication experiences.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Your day changes the more senior you get. Typically, I spend the day working with the teams in the firm and answering any of their questions, but sometimes, there are days where I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to meet with clients in Dubai to discuss a potential new matter, for example. Then in the morning, there is an insolvency matter that comes up where I would have to identify the right service provider that matches what a client wants. The key to navigating these days is to focus on being attentive to the clients’ needs and as a partner, to really understand who might be the best person on the team to fulfill those needs, whether they are to work through strategies with the client or simply to draft, file, or close submissions.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
The best way to cut your teeth is by taking the leap and entering this area, if it is something you want to do. People get involved on multiple levels with different skill sets that translate into relevant skills, such as understanding how to manage various teams in other jurisdictions around the world. Also, having mentors can be helpful, and for me, some partners with whom I have worked throughout my career have taught and inspired me. Still, I believe that even with all this preparation and experience, you learn by gaining real client experience.
What do you like best about your practice area?
The best thing about working in my practice area is that, as a litigator in very complex and high-value matters that sometimes end up on the front page of a newspaper, you get to see a big difference with what you do in these cases. It is not just the law, but also the strategy here that you see and are involved in, and it is not just each individual battle in the case—you get to see the holistic view of it all. Being involved and seeing the whole picture means you make sure you get good results for your client. There is so much more than the pressure of each case, and the contagious nature of it all attracts me to this field.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
The tasks a lawyer would perform develop from when you get qualified and, eventually, until you become a partner, from read-
ing, researching, and drafting. For instance, the way a lawyer is involved with dealing with third parties and assisting with cases really changes as your career progresses. As a junior lawyer, you would be involved with the whole range of administrative tasks and business and legal research, as well as diving into the books, since it is not an efficient use of time for a more-senior lawyer or partner to do these tasks. As you work to develop your skills in this area, your work will soon increasingly shift to the skill set you need as a cut-and-thrust litigator.
In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?
We have seen an increase in volume of queries we are receiving relating to fraud and insolvency scenarios, including—in particular—an increase in queries from the Asia market. As a firm focused on fraud and misconduct, we see our role as a force for good, helping sort between innocuous and fraudulent actions and defending those who may be wrongfully accused as people and governments seek legal recourse or a new source of revenue.
Functionally, our daily work as litigators has shifted—no longer are all hearings conducted in person, with proceedings far more regularly being conducted online. At a local level here in the Cayman Islands, while court proceedings have been conducted over remote means for some time, far more hearings now take place online to great effect.
How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?
In my experience, practicing litigation at a medium-sized firm like ours is not all that different from practicing in a large law firm. A major difference at Kobre & Kim, compared to practicing at a large law firm, is that you obviously do not have access to an internal transactional side that can be a reliable source of business whenever a client’s need for litigation pops up. Because of that, maintaining positive and close relations with other law firms is key to driving the firm’s business forward. When considering Kobre & Kim’s “conflict-free” approach—which means that we avoid repeat clients and instead focus on “one-off” special counsel engagements—this makes relationship maintenance all the more important.