An under-wraps independent review of Baker McKenzie’s approach to a sexual misconduct incident six years ago has concluded there were ‘a number of shortcomings’ but details are scarce.
The associate left the firm after reaching a settlement and Bakers has faced criticism for allowing the partner in question to stay at the firm and take on subsequent senior roles. After news of the incident came to light in February this year the firm announced the partner would leave and acknowledged it should have handled the incident better.
Bakers on Monday (8 October) filed the report to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which is investigating the incident and its response. However, the firm has refused to disclose the content publicly amid a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed at the time of the incident that prevents identification of the victim. Instead, the firm opted to issue today (11 October) an anonymised statement from a ‘spokesperson’ noticeably lacking in details that poses more questions than it answers. The firm declined to make any further statement or release a copy of Simmons report.
‘Simmons commented that as a firm we had been particularly open and transparent in our desire to ensure that we got to the root of the problem and to learn from our mistakes,’ said the spokesperson. ‘The report concluded that there were a number of shortcomings in the way the incident was handled at that time which we very much regret…The SRA investigation is ongoing, as is our commitment to protect the privacy of the former associate, as she has requested.’
A special committee including a group of senior Bakers partners worked on the review alongside Simmons, carrying out more than three dozen interviews and analysing documents.
The review recommended a series of initiatives which the firm will be introducing over the next few months, such as the introduction of a ‘first point of contact’ role in every office – a partner, associate or other professionals trained to deal with concerns around inappropriate conduct. The firm will also introduce mandatory workplace behaviour training.
Responsibility will now fall heavily on the SRA to take the lead and decide the extent to which Baker McKenzie needs to be held to account for its actions to avoid any accusation of a whitewash.
For more on the issue of City law’s handling of NDAs, see ‘Draining the swamp’ (£)