Law may have a reputation as a relatively staid career but it was inevitable that the profession would be drawn into the widening debate about the treatment of women sparked by last year’s reports of harassment in the film industry.
Following the latest controversy to grip business, Mishcon de Reya today (25 January) issued a statement of contrition after it emerged that one of its partners attended the controversial City charity dinner at the centre of a Financial Times report alleging harassment.
Mishcon issued the statement after it emerged that property partner Nick Minkoff was one of 300 guests at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner event held last Thursday (18 January) at the Dorchester in central London. The statement reads: ‘The existence of male-only events of the type operated by the Presidents Club are contrary to the core values of Mishcon de Reya, specifically that we always aim to foster a culture which thrives on diversity and respect for the individual. The firm endeavours in all its matters and dealings to be an inclusive environment where everyone can realise their full potential.
The actions that took place that night were deplorable and should be condemned. They have no legitimate place in society.’
The firm confirmed that Minkoff, who has been with Mishcon since 2010, ‘attended the evening as a guest in order to support good causes’. The statement added: ‘He is embarrassed by being associated with this event and has confirmed that he never personally witnessed any of the reported behaviours but does not dispute them. He himself condemns any such behaviours.’
The FT’s report on Wednesday (24 January) stated that a number of the 130 female hostesses hired for the event were subjected to boorish and demeaning behaviour by some of the guests, triggering outrage in business and political circles due to the event’s links to prominent public figures.
It emerged today that several other lawyers were on the guest list, including Francis Weaver, a former real estate partner of Kingsley Napley. He is currently a self-employed consultant to the firm.
Fried Frank corporate partner Dan Oates was also named on the guest list. A firm spokesperson said: ‘Dan did not attend the dinner and left shortly after arriving. Dan and Fried Frank are appalled by, and completely disassociate themselves from, the reported behaviour.’
Berwin Leighton Paiser (BLP) international disputes head Graham Shear attended the dinner, and the brochure for the event listed Shear on its seven-strong organising committee. Accounts for the Presidents Club name BLP as the charity’s principal legal adviser for at least the last five years.
BLP did not respond to requests for comment until Monday (January 29), days after being contacted. The firm issued a statement saying: ‘BLP is not, as incorrectly stated in The Presidents Club Trustees’ Annual Report, The Presidents Club’s principal legal advisers. We have done occasional pieces of work for the charity on a pro bono basis, as we do for a number of other registered charities.’
The BLP spokesperson added Shear was ‘extremely embarrassed’ and ‘deeply regrets’ his attendance and any association with the dinner. ‘Graham recognises that such events are inconsistent with our values and beliefs.’
The row came as the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) this week announced that Alastair Main, a former solicitor at City investment house Schroders, has been suspended from practising until 4 January 2019 and ordered to pay £2,000 in costs following a criminal conviction.
Main hit the headlines in January 2017 after being convicted of one count of racially-aggravated assault and one count of sexual assault at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court after an incident in a 2015 Christmas party at the London Rowing Club in South West London.
Main was ordered by the court to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and sign the sex offenders’ register.
The tribunal found that Main had breached professional principles requiring solicitors to act with integrity and for failing to maintain public trust in the profession. The full judgment, which will include the SDT’s full reasoning for the decision, is set to be published in March.
It last week separately emerged that Dentons had put a partner at its Scotland practice on a leave of absence while it investigates a claim of sexual misconduct.
Opinion remains divided as to how the legal industry stacks up against other sectors in stamping out abusive behaviour and harassment of women. While many believe the profession is now far less tolerant of harassment, others counter that the status and rewards handed to partners encourage abuse. But with the issue still on the business agenda months after claims first surfaced regarding US film producer Harvey Weinstein, the profession’s record looks set to face more scrutiny.