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No comment, 2SPs, deep pockets, unpaid bills and more..

Turning a dangerously blind eye

You may have seen a story in the Daily Mail highlighting that Franck Magennis, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, will not face action from the Chambers despite appearing to tweet support for Hamas. The article goes on to highlight that Garden Court Chambers’ HR department said in an email that “it would only investigate complaints about the quality of service.”

At best, this feels untenable. They would, for example, investigate him if he were accused of sexual harassment, which is not a quality-of-service issue. Secondly, a complaint has been lodged with the Bar Standards Board (BSB), who presumably will be looking closely to see whether the post breaches the recent BSB’s social media guidelines. Irrespective of the barrister’s self-employed status, the good name of the chambers has been tarnished through his actions and it would not seem unreasonable for the chambers to have a view on his personal conduct. Certainly a journalist at the Daily Mail thought so.

Whatever your view is on the rights or wrongs of the tweet, I can’t help but think that the HR department would have benefitted from getting some PR advice.

Rarely is it a good idea to rush to issue comments or push out a press statement when a crisis strikes because you’re highly likely to misjudge or completely miss something important. That said, if you go with “no comment” it leaves a vacuum, that it is very likely to be filled by rumours and misinformation.

When faced with a crisis or a sensitive situation, issuing a holding statement can provide a temporary shield while you gather your thoughts and make your assessment. It can help you regain control of the conversation, manage expectations and set out a manageable timeframe. It also indicates to people that you’re taking the situation seriously and allows you the space to issue a response that is thoughtful, accurate, and outlines the steps you’re taking to address the issue.

Is the client always king?

Complications arose last week during a conference held by the International Bar Association (IBA) in Paris, which brought to light debates about whether lawyers need further guidance when deciding whether to act on behalf of controversial clients.

The IBA has itself created a framework of principles for the legal profession, essentially ‘codes of conduct’. The principle in question, Principle 5, states that lawyers should always “treat client interests as paramount”; however, the suggestion of an amendment to this principle is now being debated. The amendment considers the role of lawyers as “ethical gatekeepers within wider society”, and brings with it the argument that some legal cases lack the moral and ethical integrity that lawyers should be expected to uphold.

The main bone of contention in this debate is the argument that lawyers should always prioritise their “gatekeeping” duties of upholding justice, and that this should outweigh the interests of individual clients. But this ‘one rule for all’ policy has raised the ire of some lawyers, including Patrick Dillen of the Brussels bar, who argued at the conference that creating a rule which states that “you [the lawyer] are not taking this case because of a vague social norm” would be “very dangerous”, adding that “it should be for the individual lawyer and their conscience”.

On a practical level, it is hard to imagine that this amendment will prevail, as analysing the depths of every controversial case brought to light would be extremely time-consuming and undoubtedly cause many delays in the legal process – a major concern for the UK system, which is already limping along at a snail’s pace.

However, it is also very understandable why proponents of the amendment deem it necessary, as attention needs to be placed on moral responsibility – one need only consider the thorny issue of providing counsel to those Russians linked to the Putin plutocracy and therefore potentially affected by the sanctions regime here in the UK – do their ties to a morally reprehensible dictator mean that these people have forfeited their right to legal representation? And if not, how do their lawyers avoid having their own reputation besmirched? These are far-from-clear-cut issues.

Open to the floor – should a lawyer’s ethical and moral behaviour always come before their clients’ needs, or does it always ultimately depend on the individual client and case?

A Tale of Two SPs

It’s November, or what the Venerable Bede called Blōtmōnaþ; the dark days and bitter cold are upon us – and yet there is sunshine in certain boardrooms, as it’s also promotion season for corporate heads in the legal world. This week has seen both Travers Smith and CMS appoint new senior partners.

Travers Smith’s head of corporate M&A and ECM, Andrew Gillen is a longstanding Travers lawyer, who joined from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the late 1990s. Gillen will be working closely with managing partner Edmund Reed as he finds his sea legs at the helm.

Reed told The Lawyer – “I am very much looking forward to working with Andrew to navigate the next stage of the firm’s evolution and push forwards with our plans for the future”.

It’s been a turbulent time for the firm of late: the beginning of 2023 witnessed the departure of multiple senior partners, so Gillen’s promotion comes at a time where it is necessary to steady the ship and hopefully sail into calmer waters in 2024.

CMS has also made headlines this week with their new appointment: Charles Currier, co-head of corporate at CMS (and a former colleague of mine when I was still but a wee bairn), will become the UK senior partner for the firm in May next year.

This follows a year of fluctuations for the firm (and, to be fair, for much of the industry), as 2022 saw CMS’ UK profit per equity partner (PEP) fall below £1m, having only just reached this milestone for the first time in the 2021/22 fiscal year. And despite posting a 6.2% increase in global revenue and a 6.4% increase in the UK this year, CMS revealed in September that it will be initiating associate redundancies in the corporate department due to a slowdown in transactions. Could Currier be the one to lead the firm out of the woods?

The news of these two promotions emerged concurrently with this article in The Lawyer, which highlights the ongoing discussion as to whether law firms should stick or twist when it comes to management. The prime example of this comes courtesy of the impending merger of Allen & Overy with Shearman & Sterling, which raises questions about the kind of leadership the combined firm will adopt. Senior partner Wim Dejonghe is one of the main architects of the deal, but his current tenure comes to an end in May, and word on the street is that partners would like a chance to have their say in affecting the firm’s direction.

When faced with the options of continuity or change, many top 50 UK firms are choosing the latter, but there is ongoing scepticism about whether this shift in managerial structure is really necessary, as the mayhem created by the process of holding elections to choose new law firm leaders can cause a lot of distractions for the lawyers involved.

Perhaps more firms will opt for a more stable and continuity-driven approach, similar to what Kennedys’ senior partner Nick Thomas has demonstrated during his 27 year-long tenure as a senior partner.

Poghust Goodhead – a David with a Goliath-sized spending plan?

If you’re an avid Si’s Matters reader, you may remember a few editions back, I mentioned the phenomenally large investment deal secured by London-based firm Pogust Goodhead. You may even recall the association of the firm with a creature of majestic and mythical proportions, to wit a unicorn – well, in the wake of the firm’s latest news, the imagery that now comes to mind has reached biblical levels.

After securing its $552m (£454m if you’re this side of the Atlantic) investment deal, Pogust Goodhead is now aiming to expand its talent pool by emphasising the firm’s exclusive focus on environmental issues. Managing partner Tom Goodhead tells the Lawyer that “it’s no longer a choice between having money and doing the right thing – that’s what we’re selling,” and that due to the firm’s stellar reputation with environmental cases, it is in a very attractive position to appeal to new recruits who are looking to better their ESG commitments, while still offering “max salaries”.

Tom also highlights the “hilarious” levels of greenwashing that large firms engage in, boldly stating that he is not afraid to expose those firms that espouse their commitment to reducing their environmental impact whilst simultaneously advising oil companies to go drilling anywhere in the developing world.

That’s not all: work supported by previous investments has resulted in significant achievements for golden goose Pogust Goodhead, such as resolving the 2022 Volkswagen emissions group litigation and providing assistance to 700,000 individuals impacted by the Mariana dam disaster in Brazil.

This track record, enriched by the firm’s new financial leverage, offers Pogust Goodhead the chance to go after “the crème de la crème” of lawyers seeking to be the change they want to see in the world. Things are looking promising for the firm on this front, as it plans on casting its own spell on top legal talent from the Magic Circle itself.

The ghosts of Finablr’s past, present and future (tense)

Magic Circle firm Linklaters has gone to court to seek approximately £2m in unpaid legal fees from the subsidiaries of a former client, Finablr Plc, which entered administration in 2022. The bust company’s outstanding invoices total a whopping £2,037,200.77 (plus interest, of course).

Luckily for Finablr, it has subsidiaries, in the form of UAE Exchange UK and UAE Exchange International Holding. Unluckily for Finablr, these subsidiaries are now disputing the fees, on the basis of a grammatical clause in the joint and several agreement (JSA).

Linklaters asserted that the subsidiaries are liable under the agreement for professional fees, disbursements and tax incurred before the date of the JSA, as well as future fees, due to the wording of the document, with particular focus on when fees were “incurred”.

Spokesperson for the companies, Rupert Higgins, argued that the use of the future tense in the JSA indicated that the agreement covered all fees incurred after the JSA’s date. He explained that the phrase “you shall be liable for the fees incurred” meant that the liability extended to fees that may be incurred in the future. This was rejected by William Chen for Linklaters, who told the court that the language of the JSA was “clear” that its ‘intention’ was for past fees and that it was “indisputable” that “incurred” includes the past tense of the word.

The court is yet to issue judgment on this sticky semantic shambles.

In other news

Mind the gap: the biggest City-regional pay gaps revealed

Coming out on top with the biggest salary gaps between London newly-qualified (NQ) solicitors and their counterparts in the regions are Hogan Lovells and CMS, with a tremendous £45,000 difference. Many, like DLA Piper and Eversheds Sutherland, maintain flat rates for NQs across regions, paying higher rates to their London-based solicitors.

Then you have firms like Taylor Wessing, which highlights the ongoing challenges in aligning pay scales across locations in the era of remote work through its equal pay of NQs in London and Cambridge at £100,000.

You can read the full list here.

Third time lucky?

International firm Baker McKenzie has reported flat revenue rates for the second year in a row, with its global revenues of $3.3bn (£2.7bn) mirroring that of 2022 and the firm choosing to keep its profit figures under wraps.

Baker McKenzie stays positive, however, stating that its core strength had provided a “natural hedge against market uncertainties”, and from a geographical standpoint the firm saw substantive growth across the Americas, with a revenue increase of 3.8% in both North and Latin America.

Read more here.

Law firms join together to help women and girls against domestic abuse

Ten City firms have come together to form the pro bono project, the Domestic Abuse Response Alliance (DARA), which seeks to provide comprehensive representation and advocacy for survivors requiring protective orders against their abusers.

Sam Cottman, head of pro bono at Travors Smith, recalls one of the first cases DARA has taken on since its foundation and emphasises the importance of pro bono work like this, saying “The amount of trauma [the victim] had to endure – just to get into the courtroom – is a real example of the difference of having lawyers and why DARA is important”.

Read more about this impactful project here.

Business is booming for Milbank

Milbank has announced its associates will receive a $10,000 raise from January 2024. Chair Scott A. Edelman cited the firm’s “very, very strong year this year”, whereby productivity increased significantly, despite the cost of living increasing rapidly.

Scott concluded that the firm expects “that [it] will continue to see high levels of activity for the remainder of the year”. It’s a great time to be a Milbank associate.

See the full associate salary scale here.

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