Legal Business Blogs

More gloom for Freshfields as another disputes partner exits after internal investigation

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has suffered yet another setback after disputes partner Tom Snelling was dismissed from the partnership following an internal investigation.

The move will be an unwelcome addition to the City giant’s woes as the legal industry and the world at large grapples with unparalleled reversals wrought by the ever-escalating coronavirus pandemic.

A Freshfields spokesperson would not give full details of Snelling’s departure, only commenting: ‘We can confirm that following the conclusion of an internal investigation, it has been agreed with Tom Snelling that it’s in the interests of both him and the firm that he leave the partnership. His last day was 19 March (Thursday).’

Snelling, who made partner in 2010, is the second disputes partner to be ousted from Freshfields in the space of three months after Nicholas Williams, a partner since 2017, left the firm on 11 December after the firm launched an internal probe into personal misconduct allegations.

That dismissal came in the same week the Freshfields partnership voted in new enforcement protocols that meant partners who receive a final warning for personal behaviour issues could face an automatic fine equal to 20% of their profit share for 12 months.

The reforms were aimed at curbing harassment of staff and came in the wake of the public embarrassment Freshfields faced in October when the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) fined former partner Ryan Beckwith £35,000 and ordered him to pay £200,000 in legal costs following a high-profile hearing concerning sexual activity with a junior lawyer in his team.

While the Solicitors Regulation Authority decided against appealing a decision many deemed lenient, Beckwith in February filed a High Court appeal against the SDT’s finding against him.

A firm-wide programme to improve culture and behaviour has also resulted in a set of principles – ‘Show respect, be there for one another, be positive role models, and be open with one another’ – as a means of tackling these problems.

While this latest exit could be seen as an affirmative move in clamping down on unacceptable working practices, it also shines an unfortunate light on a firm now with a succession of partner terminations for misconduct.