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SRA refers Bakers and former head Gary Senior for prosecution over ‘inappropriate’ behaviour as #MeToo cloud hangs over firm

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has referred Baker McKenzie and its former London head Gary Senior for prosecution to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) after he ‘behaved in an inappropriate manner’ and ‘sought to initiate intimate activity’ with a junior member of staff in 2012.

In a decision announced today (30 July), the firm was referred to the SDT for allowing Senior to ‘improperly influence’ the investigation launched into the episode and for not reporting the matter to the SRA until February last year despite being aware of the facts.

The firm’s former partner Tom Cassels and former HR director Martin Blackburn have also been referred for their roles in leading the initial investigation into Senior’s misconduct. Both are accused of allowing Senior to influence the outcome of the investigation and failing to report the matter to the SRA.

The SRA decision states that Bakers, Cassels and Blackburn were aware that Senior had been guilty of ‘a serious error of judgment’ and that Senior’s behaviour was ‘aggravated by his seniority’.

All allegations are subject to a hearing before the SDT and are as yet unproven.

The decision by the SRA published today (30 July) names Senior as the partner involved in an episode in 2012 which came to light in February last year. Senior’s name had however remained under wraps until today.

A spokesperson for Bakers said in a statement: ‘As we have previously disclosed, we have been co-operating fully with the SRA since the beginning of this process last year, including sharing with them in September the full findings of the report we commissioned into the 2012 incident which was carried out last year in conjunction with the law firm Simmons & Simmons. It was that report which brought to light the full extent to which our internal processes fell short of what should be expected and were undermined in a way that was unacceptable and should never have happened.’

The statement added: ‘As we said last September both publicly and privately to the SRA, we fully accept there were significant shortcomings in the procedures that we followed in 2012 and subsequently. This is something which we very much regret. We could and should have done much better in handling the issue at the time and subsequently, and we have since introduced and reinforced robust processes to ensure these shortcomings can never be repeated. As a result of our review of the incident from which we are determined to learn and improve, we have enhanced our internal due diligence processes, including around the way we vet candidates for promotion in the firm. We have also taken steps to encourage a “speak up” culture across the firm. We are confident that these changes will prevent something like this from ever happening again.’

The SRA’s decision published today alleges Senior sought to initiate intimate activity with the junior member of staff, whose identity is not disclosed, in circumstances in which he was in a position of ‘authority and responsibility’ over them and had knowingly caused them to be alone with him.

Senior is accused of having attempted to embrace and kiss the junior member of staff without consent and to have persisted in such conduct despite the person involved indicating that it was not appropriate. The allegations also refer to Senior improperly seeking to influence the conduct and outcome of the investigation and try to prevent details on the incident being appropriately shared within the firm.

According to details that emerged last year, the member of staff involved in the incident left the firm after reaching a settlement, which included terms that their identity remained confidential.

Meanwhile, Bakers attracted criticism for allowing Senior to stay at the firm and take on subsequent roles following the episode. He led the firm’s London office until 2013, when he took on the role of EMEA chair. In 2016 he stood for global chair in the election eventually won by Paul Rawlinson.

Senior had joined the firm in 1984, made partner in the corporate practice in 1992 and had been London head since 2003. After the allegations emerged in February 2018, Senior left the firm  and Bakers appointed Simmons & Simmons to conduct an independent review of how the firm handled the accusations six years before.

Senior has now taken up a role at Finlay Gardener. Former HR director Blackburn left Bakers in 2014 and is now UK people director at KPMG, while litigation partner Cassels joined Linklaters in 2016.

Linklaters has given full support to Cassels. A spokesperson said in a statement: ‘We note the SRA’s decision to refer this matter to the SDT and Tom has the firm’s full support. Tom is a hugely respected and distinguished lawyer who, since joining us in 2016, has become a trusted and valued partner. He has a long track record of championing diversity initiatives, including our own internal “He for She” campaign and as a mentor for the 30% Club.’