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Linklaters partners to disclose personal relationships alongside new external whistleblowing hotline

Partners and staff at Linklaters will have to notify the firm of any personal relationships with colleagues that may lead to conflicts of interest, according to new rules introduced this week.

The firm’s ‘guidance on how to manage relationships at work’ says it expects partnership and staff members to discuss such relationships with an office, group or practice head or an HR contact so as to manage the impact of any ‘actual or potential’ conflict of interest.

People at the firm insisted this was not about banning relationships between colleagues but rather about transparency when these involve someone who is in a position of deciding on career progression, bonuses or work allocation of their partner. The measure is also aimed at avoiding any abuse of power.

‘It is not about prying into personal information but about acting as a responsible business by supporting our people,’ Linklaters said in a statement.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the firm also announced it has established an external whistleblowing hotline for people to report harassment, discrimination and bullying.

Called SpeakUp, it will be managed by an independent company and allow people to report anonymously. Issues raised will be reported to a selected group of people within the firm to allow investigations to take place.

A spokesperson for Linklaters said it had always encouraged people to discuss any issue within the firm and aimed at avoiding any repercussions for doing so, adding: ‘However, we understand that in certain circumstances individuals may feel more comfortable speaking to an independent, external party.’

SpeakUp is currently available to in the UK, Americas and Asia, and the firm plans to extend the service to its other offices ‘in due course’.

A number of firms have carried out investigations on inappropriate behaviour from partners lately.

An Australia-based Herbert Smith Freehills partner was suspended after an internal investigation discovered evidence of misconduct, while Baker McKenzie previously issued a review of complaints handling following a historic allegation of sexual assault against a high-ranking partner at the firm.

In Germany, former Linklaters partner Thomas Elser was sentenced to three years and three months in prison by a court in Munich for assaulting a student at a firm party several years ago. And a former Scottish partner left Dentons in February after the firm launched an internal investigation into allegations of past inappropriate sexual behaviour.

#MeToo also hit the highest levels of law in March as Latham & Watkins chairman Bill Voge resigned from the firm after a series of ‘voluntary disclosures relating to personal conduct’.