His very name can strike fear into publishers and editors everywhere from London to Los Angeles.
Why? Because he’s won millions of pounds worth of damages in libel cases representing a plethora of A-List clients, among them Liam Neeson, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage and (most recently) Justin Timberlake. He also represents David Miscavige, Scientology’s global leader, and locally, he’s been the ‘go to’ defamation lawyer for politicians across the spectrum from Peter Robinson to Gerry Adams.
And, away from libel and reputation management, Tweed is in the throes of assembling
a multi-million pound group action against a number of international tobacco giants. He’s throwing his weight behind the litigation, for one very simple and heartfelt reason.
“I watched my mother die slowly from emphysema. In her later years she had to use an oxygen mask but used to take it off to have a puff of her cigarette. The kind of addiction was just terrible to watch,” he says.
“Class and Group actions are a big deal. They take a lot of organising, a lot of time
and a lot of commitment. But I have to say that I enjoy the challenge and I enjoy being the underdog…the Belfast lawyer up against the rest of the world!”
It’s not the only major legal action that Paul Tweed is involved in. He’s also part of a team considering legal action for a group of clients against Facebook around its alleged responsibility for what’s known as schoolyard revenge porn….. whereby schoolchildren can fall victim to indecent images of themselves being posted online.
So Paul Tweed, despite the hectic pace of his existing lifestyle, looks set to be even busier. Come this summer, he’ll be stepping back from his ‘day- to-day’ role as Senior Partner at Belfast law firm Johnsons to set up his own branded firm, Tweed International, with offices in Belfast, Dublin and London.
There are many in the legal world both here and elsewhere who’ll suggest that it’s a move he could have taken some time ago, such is the value of the Paul Tweed brand, particularly on the media law front. The man himself argues that he had to feel that the time was right.
“I’ll continue to work closely in conjunction with Johnsons so it’s definitely not
a divorce,” he explains. “But I’m really looking forward to concentrating entirely on the work that I’m doing, be it media or multi plaintiff actions.”
Paul Tweed’s mobile phone is rarely silent. He finds himself taking calls from clients late
in the evening, throughout the weekend and early in the morning. Fortunately, then, he’s a 4.30 or 5.00 am starter, and those kind of hours allow him to catch the end of the day on the West Coast of the United States….where his celebrity clients tend to live.
“I’ll continue to work closely in conjunction with Johnsons so it’s definitely not a divorce. But I’m really looking forward to concentrating entirely on the work that I’m doing, be it media or multi Plaintiff actions.”
Tweed International will see Paul Tweed being joined by a team of lawyers based across the three offices. As well as media law, the area in which he is most accomplished, there will be other key areas of specialisation.
Among these will be corporate brand protection, the legal processes by which companies and their brands can effectively be protected against threats from disaffected former employees, for instance.
Tweed has never seen any reason to move away from Belfast because of the international dimension to his work. “Why would I?” he says simply. “There’s a much better quality of life here and it’s
still a great place to live. And, from a business and office perspective, costs are lower than just about anywhere else.”
The low-cost scenario has contributed, of course, to Belfast doing well on the so-called ‘legal tourism’ front, with cases being brought here and settled here at a fraction of the cost of doing the same thing in London, for example.
On the media front, Paul Tweed has seen plenty of change in the landscape over the years. But the rapid growth of social media has been the most seismic of all the changes.
“It’s alarming to know that 70% of the population get their news, or all the news they need, from Facebook. That represents a major, major challenge for all of us, and particularly for those of us who are working
to protect reputations.”