Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has become the second leading law firm to instruct partners and staff to disclose personal relationships with colleagues, while also introducing a third-party whistleblowing platform.
As part of a shake-up of its global policies and guidelines, HSF has introduced a new policy entitled ‘Personal Relationships in the Workplace.’ The firm stated that it is intended to ‘provide a framework to deal sensitively, consistently and fairly with personal relationships which may affect the business.’
However an HSF statement insisted: ‘it is not intended to prohibit partners or staff from having a personal relationship with a work colleague, client or supplier.’ Notably, the guideline also asserts: ‘all partners and staff are asked to use common sense in assessing whether or not this policy is relevant to their circumstances.’
Such initiatives can be seen as a response to the #MeToo movement – from which the legal industry has been far from exempt – and the firm’s decision to introduce a third-party whistleblowing service compounds that.
The service, called Faircall, is independently monitored by Big Four accountancy firm KPMG and is able to be contacted by phone or email to report professional wrongdoing, harassment or other misconduct.
HSF will be eager to be seen cracking down on harassment and misconduct, after an Australian partner was suspended in March following claims of sexual harassment.
HSF chief executive Mark Rigotti told Legal Business however that plans to make such policy changes had been in place since before Christmas. On the Australian incident, Rigotti said: ‘It’s not a reaction to that circumstance but that situation certainly sped things up a bit.’
Rigotti added: ‘There’s no doubt there’s a focus on the themes represented in the #MeToo movement at the moment. What it has done is make us think about what best practice is everywhere. People should feel comfortable coming forward and speaking up and seeking help, whether that’s in the UK, Australia or anywhere.’
It is too early to say whether such procedural revamps are the start of a trend, but HSF has followed closely in Linklaters’ footsteps. The Magic Circle firm announced earlier this month that it was to introduce similar rules on personal relationships, and also ushered in an independent whistleblowing service called SpeakUp.
Just last week, disputes leader Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan became the latest firm to sack a partner after what the firm described as ‘inappropriate behaviour.’