Interview: The 23 year-old Cambridge law grad behind the £315m Ryanair legal battle

Michael Green decided to do this instead of a training contract

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One of the first things you’ll learn at law school is that everyone is equal before the law.

Well that’s the theory; but everyone knows it’s difficult for ‘the little people’ to take on big organisations (and their big legal teams) in the courtroom.

This inequality of arms is the latest problem which tech-entrepeneurs are hoping to tackle with the use of the internet — and this time the entrepeneur is a young law grad.

There has been a blossoming of online initiatives designed to stick up for individuals in the face of daunting, expensive litigation against companies or the government.

There’s the ‘robot lawyer’, which features on the donotpay.co.uk website, and which facilitates disgruntled members of the public appealing against parking fines. It was set up by a computer student. There’s also Crowdjustice, a new online forum that allows members of the public at large to offer financial support to specific public interest legal cases set up by a former Linklaters associate.

And then there’s CaseHub. Created by Michael Green (pictured below), a recent Cambridge law graduate, the website has been thrust into the media spotlight in recent days because of a newly-featured case involving air-travel giant, Ryanair. The website, Green hopes, is going to be suing Ryanair on disgruntled passengers’ behalf.

Michael Green
Michael Green

It’s intriguing and impressive so Legal Cheek caught up with Green to talk details.

In and amongst all the media frenzy and dramatic headlines, the website, he explained, is all about “setting precedent and getting money back”.

The cases that feature on the website are class actions. This is where interested parties club together to bring a court case — this one in particular challenging cheeky charges by the budget airline (such as fees of £100-£160 for changing names on tickets).

These “extra profits”, Green explains, are unfair, yet people rarely challenge them. He finds it interesting “how conditioned people have become to accepting the idea that people who makes mistakes when flying ought to be punished”. But CaseHub, which only launched in January this year, provides an online forum for passengers to get together and fight back.

The airline could be looking at a £315m claim if enough people get involved. And it’s a pretty big ‘if’ — the website is asking for 75,000 sign-ups, so far it only has 5,200.

That’s not the only uncertainty Green faces. CaseHub does not charge any sort of sign-up fee, and therefore its profits depend on the team winning their lawsuit. If successful, the lawyers, the website, and the signatories share the payout. And if it loses the loss falls on the website.

It’s risky business, a far cry from the relative security of a training contract, pupillage or other more traditional post-law degree career path.

But that doesn’t scare Green off. After finishing his undergraduate degree, the now 23 year-old went on to study a masters in EU law focusing on — in his words — “consumer things”. He had been thinking hard about what he wanted to do with his life, and after dabbling with the idea of a training contract, he admitted he had “mixed views” about the whole thing. When asked about how and why starting the website came up as a possibility, he told us:

On my masters I noticed there was no case law on EU consumer instruments and thought this was odd. It is because money makes the legal system spin, and low-value issues normally do not get beyond the small claims court, where things do not set precedent and are rarely reported.

So he set out to challenge the status quo. It’s a noble cause, but it doesn’t detract from the inherently risky nature of the website, particularly on the financial side of things. Though CaseHub is backed by investors, Green admits he won’t be generating profit “for a while”. He continued:

It is risky, but the idea is to run a portfolio of cases so the bets are spread. The risk then becomes whether we can identify the cases, build a large class size, and get litigation funders or investors to fund the litigation costs. That is where the risk really lies: in the execution.

Exciting times lay ahead for the CaseHub team. When asked if there are any other big cases in the pipeline, Green answered:

We have quite a few big ones — much bigger than Ryanair — but we are focusing on Ryanair for the next two months rather than spreading ourselves too thinly.

Expect big things from the Cambridge law grad in the future.

12 Comments

Anonymous

Might as well cut out the lawyers and become a lawyer himself to help with the casework

(9)(2)
Anonymous

If he pulls it off this would look amazing on a TC application!

(12)(5)
TRAINEE

Cambridge law grad with a masters….shouldn’t really be struggling for one in the first place?

(9)(2)
Anonymous

If he pulls this off I don’t know why he’d apply to spend a decade working for someone else trying to get half the decision-making power he already has.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

He can’t be that bright if he is landing a plane there. Clearly no space for it to stop.

(9)(1)
ALawyer

This is the same guy that started a similar website with the aim of bringing a class action to do with parking fines see a story on it here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2807735/Could-millions-parking-fines-overturned-Legal-battle-launched-win-refunds-motorists-hit-illegal-charges-supermarket-hospital-car-parks.html. That particular aim hit a brick wall when someone raised similar points and took it to the Supreme Court where it was comprehensively rejected (http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/travel/2015/11/end-of-the-road-for-chippy-as-he-loses-landmark-private-parking-court-case).

It seems to me this guy is trying to find the next big class action from which he can make his name and fame. Good luck to him but it might be nice if the article pointed out what happened to his last class action plan, with the clue being in the picture the article posted i.e. “fight the parking ticket bullies”.

(1)(0)
Dunno

Yes, but if you read well, the court didn’t find the penalty for bad parking being too ‘excessive’ or ‘unfair’. With an unreasonable penalty for a mistake during a flight booking might be different, wouldn’t you agree?

(0)(0)
ALawyer

I do read well, thank you. It might be that this particular class action will work and I was not commenting on the merits of it either way (though actually I am fairly sure there have been ECJ decisions on this and the consumer lost). I was instead pointing out that this guy has form and it might be nice if that was mentioned in the article so people could judge him not just on his present action but also his past record, it is certainly relevant information.

(1)(0)
John

It is the idea of using a website to co-ordinate claims which individually are too small to pursue which is interesting, not whether a particular action succeeds or fails. The article might have mentioned that the guy has already garnered some experience with this as a positive point rather than, as you suggest, something which undermines the idea.

(0)(0)

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