Legal Business

Bakers former City head Senior admits to sexually harassing associate but denies abuse of position

Bakers former City head Senior admits to sexually harassing associate but denies abuse of position

Baker McKenzie’s former London managing partner Gary Senior has admitted his behaviour after a firm event in 2012 amounted to sexual harassment towards a junior associate but said he did not believe at the time that his advances were unwanted.

In the third of 15 days of hearings at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), Senior admitted today (4 December) that he tried to kiss a female associate half his age and agreed this behaviour was ‘totally inappropriate and unacceptable for a managing partner’, but denied it was an abuse of his position.

He also disagreed with many details of the incident as described by the associate – referred to as Person A due to reporting restrictions – in her witness statement yesterday, including that he hugged her and persisted in his conduct despite her making clear that it was unwanted.

Asked whether he recognised that his behaviour amounted to a breach of the solicitors’ code of conduct requiring lawyers to act with integrity and uphold public trust in the profession, Senior said he could not remember being familiar with the code at the time: ‘I knew there was a code,’ he said. ‘But those are terms I was not familiar with.’

The case was brought to the SDT by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which in July referred Senior for prosecution for behaving inappropriately towards person A and seeking to initiate intimate activity with her. He is also accused of trying influence the outcome of the initial investigation into the incident and failing to report it to the SRA.

Bakers is also facing prosecution for the events alongside its former litigation partner Tom Cassels and former HR head Martin Blackburn for their roles in leading the initial investigation.

The hearings began on Monday  with SRA lead counsel Andrew Tabachnik QC of 39 Essex Chambers accusing the firm of ‘collective failure’ for the way it handled the allegations of sexual misconduct against Senior.

The events in question took place following a firm recruitment event on 23 February 2012. Senior and a small group of people went to a night club and a bar. At around 2am a group of five ended up in Senior’s hotel room.

At about 3am the party broke up, and Senior and Person A were left alone. Person A said this was because Senior had asked her to stay to talk with her about something and she felt compelled to remain given his authority as managing partner.

According to Person A’s version, which she recorded in notes in the days following the incident, Senior hugged her, making her feel uncomfortable, asked her to stay after she said she should go and suggestively looked at his bed, all aspects that Senior denies. Person A also denies giving Senior any indication at any point that his behaviour was not unwanted.

Senior admitted he made a compliment about her appearance and then moved to kiss her on the neck, but said the incident was over in a few seconds as her phone started ringing, she said it was her boyfriend calling and he moved back.

According to a witness the tribunal heard yesterday, the three other people who had left the room leaving Senior and Person A alone waited outside the door for a few minutes and then went back into the room, putting an end to the incident.

A few days later, Person A got in touch with Blackburn to report the event. Cassels, now a partner at Linklaters but then a member of Bakers’ London management committee, was subsequently appointed to lead the investigation into the incident.

Senior said today: ‘I operated in the drinking culture that you find in all big law firms, many examples of partners that are willing to drink late into the night with all sorts of employees. I have done more of that than I should have and as a managing partner I recognise that was an error.’

Tabachnik accused Senior of trying to influence the investigation, which concluded with Person A reaching a settlement and leaving the firm, while Senior stayed at Bakers and later took on the role of EMEA chair. Senior eventually left last year after details of the event had emerged and has since taken up a role at the consultancy Finlay Gardener.

The hearing comes weeks after former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith was found guilty of improperly engaging in sexual activity with a junior female colleague and is the latest in a string of similar allegations to hit the profession.

The case continues.

Marco.cillario@legalbusiness.co.uk

 

Legal Business

Bakers accused of ‘failure’ over handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against former London head

Bakers accused of ‘failure’ over handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against former London head

Baker McKenzie was accused of ‘collective failure’ for the way it handled allegations of sexual misconduct against its former London head Gary Senior yesterday (2 December), beginning a 15-day Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing.

Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) lead counsel Andrew Tabachnik QC of 39 Essex Chambers said the firm allowed Senior to seek to influence the conduct and outcome of an investigation into a complaint made against him by a junior associate.

The associate – referred to as Person A due to reporting restrictions – alleged Senior propositioned her in his hotel room in the early hours of 24 February 2012, made an inappropriate compliment about her appearance and gave her an ‘unwelcome’ and ‘unwanted’ kiss on the neck.

Bakers has also been accused of failing to report the matter to the SRA until February 2018 despite being aware that Senior had sought to initiate intimate activity with the associate, was guilty of a serious error of judgment and that his conduct was aggravated by his seniority. The firm’s former litigation partner, Tom Cassels, and former HR head, Martin Blackburn, are also facing prosecution for their roles in leading the initial investigation into Senior’s misconduct.

‘This is not a case where people apply their minds to the reporting obligations and decide [that] on balance it is not reportable [to the SRA],’ said Tabachnik. ‘This is a situation where no-one thought about it at all, and that’s what makes it culpable.’

The SRA referred Senior, Bakers, Cassels and Blackburn for prosecution in July after details of the episode first emerged in February 2018.

The events in question took place following a firm recruitment event on 23 February 2012. After dinner Senior and a small group of people went to a bar, a night club and then back to his hotel at about 2am, according to Person A.

Finding the hotel bar closed, a group of five ended up in Senior’s room, where they ordered other drinks. At about 3am the party broke up, and Senior and Person A ended up alone, which she says was because he invited her to stay.

Tabachnik said that Senior told Person A she was very attractive, followed by leaning in to kiss her on her neck, which was ‘unwelcome’ and ‘unwanted’. After she had left the room a few minutes later, Senior sent Person A an email saying: ‘Sorry!!’

Tabachnik added that Person A was ‘extremely distressed by the actions of her managing partner’ and ‘didn’t welcome the prospect of any further encounter with him’. He added: ‘She was fearful that her career at the firm would be adversely affected by the fact that she had rejected her managing partner’s advances.’

A few days later, Person A got in touch with Blackburn and Senior issued an apology, saying he was ‘deeply sorry’ and ‘very embarrassed’. Senior added he could see that it was ‘a totally inappropriate situation’, that he respected the way she reacted and this would have ‘no impact whatsoever’ on Person A’s career.

Cassels, who at the time was a member of the firm’s London management committee, was subsequently appointed to lead the investigation into the event. Tabachnik said that neither Cassels nor Blackburn were accused of acting in bad faith or without integrity. He also announced the SRA had dropped one of the original allegations against each of them following the review of the witness statement by person A, meaning they are no longer accused of misleading Person A into believing that the investigation had been undertaken independently of Senior’s influence.

Tabachnik said the investigation process into Senior’s misconduct ‘went far too rapidly with insufficient questions being asked’. He spoke of ‘short soundings’ and ‘barely a piece of paper in sight’, as well as a failure to get the firm’s general counsel properly involved in the process. ‘They were dealing with a notorious micro-manager, they knew there were no boundaries in place, they knew they were dealing with matters that involved investigating one of the key decision makers and there is no evidence of any step taken to prevent [Senior] from influencing the outcome.’

The firm reached a settlement with Person A, who was given two years’ salary plus £15,000 and left the firm. Senior stayed at Bakers and later took on the role of EMEA head. He eventually left last year after details of the event had emerged and has since taken up a role at Finlay Gardener.

Blackburn left Bakers in 2014 and is now UK people director at KPMG, while Cassels joined Linklaters in 2016.

A spokesperson for Bakers said in a statement: ‘We have been co-operating fully with the SRA since the beginning of this process last year. In September 2018, we shared with the SRA the findings of the report we commissioned into the 2012 incident which was carried out in conjunction with the law firm Simmons & Simmons. We’ve learned much from this episode, recognised what went wrong and have well-established and effective policies and programs in place across the firm.’

The trial continues.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Chadwick gets second term as Bakers’ London head after winning contested election

Chadwick gets second term as Bakers’ London head after winning contested election

Baker McKenzie tax partner Alex Chadwick (pictured) will lead the firm’s City office until the end of 2022 after seeing off competition from antitrust partner Samantha Mobley.

The firm announced today (19 November) the election of Chadwick for a second three-year term at the helm of the firm’s 500-strong London base, following a contested vote last night.

A Bakers lifer, he joined the firm as a trainee in 1990, made partner in 1999 and went on to head the firm’s City tax practice. He first took on the role of London managing partner in September 2016, when his predecessor, the late Paul Rawlinson, became the firm’s global chair.

A member of the London management committee, Mobley had earlier this year also put her name forward in the race to become Bakers’ chair but did not make the final three shortlist. The election eventually saw Hong Kong-based Milton Cheng elected to the role in September.

Under Chadwick’s tenure the firm’s London office has grown revenue 40% and scored 26 laterals in a bid to strengthen its transactional practices.

The last few months were troubled, however. In August, the Solicitors Regulation Authority referred Bakers’ 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. The hearings will start on 2 December.

While in April, the firm announced the unexpected death of Rawlinson, six months after he took what was expected to be a temporary leave of absence due to exhaustion.

Commenting on his re-appointment, Chadwick said in a statement: ‘I am very honoured to be elected managing partner of Baker McKenzie in London once more. I am grateful to have an opportunity to build on the progress we have achieved so far and to continue expanding Baker McKenzie’s presence in London, as the City remains a vitally important financial centre for the firm.’

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

New brooms – Asian coup for Bakers as Clydes, HSF and TLT announce leadership changes

New brooms – Asian coup for Bakers as Clydes, HSF and TLT announce leadership changes

Anna Cole-Bailey rounds up the latest management reshuffles at home and abroad

The autumn saw significant c-suite changes announced at Global 100 and Legal Business 100 (LB100) players, with Baker McKenzie voting in Milton Cheng as its new chair in a victory for the Asia partnership, while the figureheads of Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), TLT and Clyde & Co will step down to pave the way for successors.

Legal Business

Bakers makes eleventh City lateral in last year with Ashurst corporate hire

Bakers makes eleventh City lateral in last year with Ashurst corporate hire

Ashurst’s global head of corporate Jason Radford (pictured) is unfazed by the loss to Baker McKenzie’s prolific City hiring spree of corporate partner Nick Bryans and has pledged a sustained investment drive to maintain the firm’s recent financial rebound.

An Ashurst-lifer and partner since 2005, Bryans is joining the London office of Bakers. He follows ten other laterals the expansive firm has made already in London over the last year. He was head of the Ashurst’s Middle East practice in Dubai from 2007 to 2010 and a member of the firm’s Japanese practice group.

Specialising in M&A and equity capital markets, Bryans is focused on energy and resources, infrastructure, transport, pharma and life sciences, industrials and TMT. He advises corporates, banks and financial sponsors on public and private mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, IPOs, private placements and other capital raising deals.

Jane Hobson, head of Bakers’ London M&A practice, commented: ‘Nick’s hire will enhance Baker McKenzie’s market profile in London and accelerate the pace of the step-change we are already seeing in our transactional practices.’

Bryans added: ‘What really appealed to me about Baker McKenzie is its stellar global platform, the breadth of its client base and the strength of its brand. There is also a palpable sense of momentum behind the growth and trajectory of the firm’s transactional practices.’

This is Bakers’ eleventh London partner addition in the last year, following on from the hires of Marc Florent from Allen & Overy (dispute resolution), Prabhu Narasimhan from White & Case (tax), Philip Thomson from Ashurst (corporate/energy, mining & infrastructure), Philip Annett from A&O (financial services), Caitlin McErlane from Sidley Austin (financial services), Peter Lu from White & Case (corporate M&A), Rob Mathews from White & Case (capital markets), David Becker from White & Case (capital markets), Mathew Dening from Sidley Austin (structured capital markets) and Haden Henderson from Ropes & Gray (capital markets).

Meanwhile, Radford is optimistic that the firm’s sharpened focus on financial performance has it well-placed to sustain the upward momentum of its recent success. On the back of three consecutive years of growth, Ashurst added £77m to its top line to hit £641m for the year to 30 April 2019, a significant 14% increase on the £564m turnover of last year. PEP also soared 31% to £972,000 from last year’s £743,000, putting Ashurst within sight of its stated intention of smashing the £1m PEP barrier in the next financial year.

Radford told Legal Business: ‘We have invested considerably in our global corporate capability, having hired six laterals so far this year. This is all part of a drive to create a higher performing corporate team to consolidate and build on our major successes over the last two years.’

He said there was scope to hire more laterals for the corporate practice over the next few months, with London, France, Italy and Germany all cited as areas of intended investment.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Asia coup for Bakers as partnership chooses Hong Kong’s Cheng as new chair

Asia coup for Bakers as partnership chooses Hong Kong’s Cheng as new chair

The partnership of global giant Baker McKenzie has voted in Milton Cheng to become the firm’s next chair.

A Bakers lifer, Cheng (pictured) currently serves as the firm’s Hong Kong managing partner, as well as chief executive for the Asia-Pacific region. Cheng will officially take over the role on 17 October, replacing acting global chair Jaime Trujillo, and is set to serve a four-year term. His appointment marks the first time a partner from the Asia practice has taken the top role at the firm.

Cheng said: ‘I am truly honoured by the trust my fellow partners have placed in me. I look forward to working with all of them and my colleagues across the world to build on the great work of my predecessors to make Baker McKenzie the global law firm of choice.’

Cheng first joined the firm as a trainee in Singapore before becoming partner in 1999, later assuming the role of managing partner of the Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and Korea offices in 2014. His election can be seen as significant victory for the firm’s Asia partnership, having resisted challenges from North America head Colin Murray and EMEA chief executive Fiona Carlin.

Bakers’ seven-strong appointments committee drew up the shortlist of three earlier this month after soundings with partners over the summer, with the process being undertaken on a quick timetable following the unexpected death of Paul Rawlinson in April.

Trujillo added: ‘We had a group of outstanding candidates for our next chair and the partners had a difficult decision to make. In choosing Milton, we have someone who can take this great firm to the next level.’

Cheng will hope his first year at the helm of Bakers ends with a marked improvement on the most recent financial results at the firm, with market volatility meaning revenue grew 4.4% in constant currency terms but only 1.2% in dollar terms.

thomas.alan@legalbusiness.co.uk

Legal Business

Three in the race to be next Bakers chair as partners prepare to vote

Three in the race to be next Bakers chair as partners prepare to vote

Baker McKenzie EMEA chief executive Fiona Carlin (pictured), Hong Kong managing partner Milton Cheng and North America head Colin Murray have made the final stage of the election process to become the firm’s next chair.

Bakers’ seven-strong appointments committee drew up the shortlist of three candidates earlier this week following soundings with partners over the summer, whittled down from a list of six contenders who had initially been in the running.

The firm’s equity partners will vote to elect the next chair in the next two weeks.

Latin America head Jamie Trujillo, who took over as acting chair when Paul Rawlinson stepped down from the role in October last year, was among the candidates putting their names forward at the beginning of the summer. London competition partner Samantha Mobley and Sydney-based TMT head Anne-Marie Allgrove were the other two who failed to make the final cut.

The process took place on an unusually quick timetable in exceptional circumstances, after the election was triggered by the unexpected death of Rawlinson in April.

The three remaining candidates represent the firm’s three key regions, with Bakers long intending to establish three separate profit centres – in Europe, America and Asia – by 2020.

Brussels-based Carlin was previously chair of the firm’s antitrust practice and was elected to her current role in February 2018 after the firm agreed to integrate London and eight of its EMEA offices into one profit pool for the first time. The number of offices in the group has since grown to 16.

With some partners expecting the next chair to stem from the firm’s Asian partnership, Cheng is also a strong candidate. As well as managing the Hong Kong office, he is the chief executive overseeing eight of Bakers’ Asia Pacific offices. He joined the firm as a trainee in 1990 and has since also worked in its London and Singapore offices.

Meanwhile, San Francisco-based litigator Murray manages the firm’s practices in the US, Mexico and Canada. He joined Bakers in 2000 after spending seven years as deputy district attorney in San Diego.

The next chair will take over from Trujillo at the end of the firm’s global partnership meeting, to be held in London in the week starting 14th October.

A spokesperson for Bakers said in a statement: ‘We don’t comment on internal matters and will make an announcement about our new chair in due course once they have been appointed.’

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

A&O’s Mansell to appear before SDT in December as #MeToo fallout promises busy winter

A&O’s Mansell to appear before SDT in December as #MeToo fallout promises busy winter

Allen & Overy (A&O) employment partner Mark Mansell is to face his first Solicitor Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) hearing on Wednesday 5 December following an investigation into his role drafting a controversial non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein.

A spokesperson for the SDT confirmed to Legal Business yesterday (9 September) the new date for Mansell’s hearing, which had originally been scheduled for 3 June.

It comes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) referred the employment veteran for prosecution on 3 April over the NDA drafted in 1998 when Zelda Perkins (pictured), who worked at Weinstein’s company Miramax, alleged the producer had sexually harassed a colleague.

Mansell instructed A&O partner and general counsel Andrew Clark, while the SRA drafted in Capsticks partner Daniel Purcell. A spokesperson for A&O said the firm was ‘unable to comment on SDT proceedings’.

The SRA announced it was investigating the City firm shortly after Mansell was grilled by a Women and Equalities select committee as part of a probe into the ethics of NDAs in March 2018.

The new date for Mansell’s case management hearing means he will face the SDT three days after Baker McKenzie and its former London head Gary Senior, whose substantive hearings will start on Monday 2 December.

Bakers and Senior had originally been due for a case management hearing on 12 August after the SRA referred them for prosecution over allegations that the latter ‘sought to initiate intimate activity’ with a junior member of staff in 2012 and improperly sought to influence the initial investigation launched into the episode seven years ago.

The case management hearing was later vacated since all parties ‘agreed directions and process’, according to a Bakers spokesperson.

The hearings, which also see Bakers’ former litigation partner Tom Cassels and former HR director Martin Blackburn face prosecution for their roles in leading the initial investigation into Senior’s misconduct, are estimated to last for 15 days.

Bakers, Cassels and Blackburn are accused of allowing Senior to ‘improperly influence’ the investigation launched into the episode and failing to report the matter to the SRA until February last year despite being aware of the facts.

The struggles of BigLaw with sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement will also take centre stage at the end of this month, as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith faces his next SDT hearing on 30 September.

Beckwith is alleged to have attempted to engage in sexual activity with an intoxicated junior member of staff in an abuse of seniority at an event organised by the firm.

The allegations, published following a case management hearing in the spring, focus on two instances: that Beckwith kissed or attempted to kiss the junior member of staff (the SDT has imposed reporting restrictions on their identity), over whom he was in a position of seniority, and that he initiated and/or engaged in sexual activity with the same person.

The SRA referred the case to the SDT in late June 2018.

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

For in-depth coverage of the Weinstein NDA and the controversy over the profession’s role in concealing harassment, see last year’s piece ‘Draining the swamp’ (£)

Legal Business

‘Satisfied’ Baker McKenzie adds $200m to top line but market volatility slows growth to a crawl

‘Satisfied’ Baker McKenzie adds $200m to top line but market volatility slows growth to a crawl

Baker McKenzie grew revenue to $2.92bn while partner profits hit $1.48m as uncertainty made for a more subdued year at the firm.

In constant currency terms revenue grew 4.4% but edged up only 1.2% in dollar terms, and partner profits grew 3% to $1.48m as net income increased 2% to $1bn. The results are markedly more muted than last year’s 10% constant currency growth and 13% hike in partner profits.

‘We are satisfied with the results,’ Bakers’ acting chair Jaime Trujillo told Legal Business. ‘There have been highlights such as a double-digit growth in London and healthy growth in industries like infrastructure.’

Alongside London, Bogota; Buenos Aires; Istanbul; Prague and Warsaw all saw double-digit revenue increases. Meanwhile, across the EMEA region, turnover was up 5.2% and in North America revenue grew 4%. Although the year-on-year figures are less glowing, the firm has increased its turnover 40% in the last 10 years and, in the same timeframe, grown partner profits 50%.

‘Demand for legal services has seen a noticeable decline,’ continued Trujillo. ‘But it is part of our purpose to help our clients navigate a complex world. We’re happy that our transactional practice saw growth despite volatility which conspires against transactional circles.’

Looking ahead the firm is making preparations for an economic downturn, but Bakers’ CFO Paul Eichelman remains optimistic: ‘We are planning for growth and to have growth. But we recognize the uncertainty and volatility in the market so we will continue to have the same financial discipline we have always had. These choppy times are not a distraction.’

2019 proved to be a trying year for Bakers. In April the firm announced the shock death of global chief Paul Rawlinson, who joined the firm in 1986 and successfully ushered a more ambitious phase for the global giant. More recently the firm made a significant litigation play this week by hiring Allen & Overy partner Marc Florent.

thomas.alan@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Allen & Overy loses litigation partner Florent to Baker McKenzie’s City hiring spree

Allen & Overy loses litigation partner Florent to Baker McKenzie’s City hiring spree

Allen & Overy (A&O) has lost its second London partner in as many weeks with the defection of Marc Florent (pictured), head of the Magic Circle firm’s UK insolvency litigation practice, to the expansive City office of Baker McKenzie.

The rare London exit nevertheless follows the news last week (19 August) that A&O’s head of fraud Mona Vaswani was leaving after 26 years to join US rival Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

The moves come as A&O has still yet to make an announcement over a potential transatlantic tie-up with the litigation-heavy O’Melveny & Myers after nearly 18 months of speculation.

Florent had been at A&O for more than 19 years and has been a partner since 2002. Before that he worked at fellow Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for nearly 10 years.

He is experienced in banking and finance litigation with a particular focus on wholesale and retail banking sectors, asset management, funds and sponsors on cross-border matters.

Steve Abraham, Bakers’ London and EMEA head of dispute resolution, commented: ‘Marc is a great addition to our growing and highly successful dispute resolution team in both banking and finance litigation and broader commercial litigation. Marc is a top tier and highly experienced practitioner whose joining will help us to go from strength to strength.’

Bakers’ financial institutions group global chair Jonathan Peddie said the hire would add significantly to the firm’s contentious offering.

In the last 12 months Bakers has made ten London partner hires, including Prabhu Narasimhan from White & Case (tax), Philip Thomson from Ashurst (corporate/energy, mining & infrastructure), Philip Annett from A&O (financial services), Caitlin McErlane from Sidley Austin (financial services), Peter Lu from White & Case (corporate M&A), Rob Mathews from White & Case (capital markets), David Becker from White & Case (capital markets), Mathew Dening from Sidley Austin (structured capital markets) and Haden Henderson from Ropes & Gray (capital markets).

Former Ropes & Gray partner Tony Horspool also joined the banking and finance team as a consultant specialising in restructuring in August.

Last year A&O lost Daniel Busse, the head of its German dispute resolution team, who left to form his own boutique, as well as intellectual property partner Nicola Dagg, who joined Kirkland & Ellis last October.

muna.abdi@legalease.co.uk