Legal Business

Beckwith ruling a wake-up call for profession as regulators close in on #MeToo complaints

Beckwith ruling a wake-up call for profession as regulators close in on #MeToo complaints

Ruling sends strong message but Nathalie Tidman finds unease over watchdog’s shifting remit

October’s prosecution of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Ryan Beckwith highlights awkward truths for the profession as regulators increasingly target claims of harassment and sexual misconduct in law. The ruling on 10 October, the most high-profile scalp yet after a string of embarrassing post-#MeToo disclosures for the UK legal profession over the last 18 months, has already produced a bout of soul searching across the City along with many lurid headlines.

Legal Business

Freshfields secures trophy four-partner US deal team as debate over leadership continues

Freshfields secures trophy four-partner US deal team as debate over leadership continues

In what it hopes will signal a breakthrough for its US business, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has secured the hire of a four-partner M&A team in Wall Street from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

The hire of the team – led by prominent M&A veteran Ethan Klingsberg and including partners Meredith Kotler, Pamela Marcogliese and Paul Tiger – will be seen as a trophy acquisition for Freshfields’ US corporate offering, which has struggled to gain momentum in recent years.

Senior partner Edward Braham (pictured) took a personal hand in the hires, which come after mounting calls from influential City partners for Freshfields to step up its efforts in the vast US deal market. While Cleary is still best known for securities and antitrust work in New York, the group will be viewed as  more-than-credible additions from a prestigious M&A stable.

It is the most significant US transactional move since the firm made its first substantive foray into New York corporate in 2014 when it secured the hire of former Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson senior partner and head of global capital markets Valerie Ford Jacob along with two other corporate partners – Michael Levitt and Paul Tropp. The arrival of Peter Lyons, Shearman & Sterling’s former global public M&A head, the same week and the willingness to pay select recruits above the top of its lockstep were signals that Freshfields meant business.

The hires will also go some way to answering questions over Freshfields’ succession in New York once managing partner Lyons retires, with the 55-year-old Klingberg taking over Freshfields’ US corporate practice.

Braham told Legal Business: ‘We have been growing in the US for 20 years. We are top tier in antitrust, white collar enforcement and arbitration. We started building out the US M&A practice five years ago and these hires take us squarely into the top-tier of the US M&A market.’

Braham pointed to the strong cultural fit of the new team: ‘It feels like they’ve been partners here forever. They have fabulous practices and are aligned in terms of practice, culture and ambition. This is a unique proposition.’

Klingsberg set out his reasons for joining the City giant: ‘The thing that attracted me to Freshfields is that it is structured and focused strategically. They insist on being number one for M&A. They’ve shown it in other areas and pursued it relentlessly.’

‘I have a big client base in the Bay Area, clients including Google and Levi Strauss,’ Klingsberg added. ‘We are going to continue to leverage our reputation in the area.  There are no other firms focused there with such a strong antitrust practice. This is not an ordinary course to lateral development. This is pretty wild.’

The London-born firm has secured recent US mandates out of New York including advising Starbucks Corporation on the $7.15bn sale of its Consumer Packaged Goods and Foodservice business to Nestlé, Novartis on the $5.3bn acquisition of the assets associated with Xiidra, and the London Stock Exchange Group on the $27bn acquisition of Refinitiv from Blackstone.

The additions come at a key moment for Freshfields, which is gearing up to appoint new leadership amid a wider debate about its strategic focus in general and its US practice in particular. There has been some speculation that the trophy team hire could provide capital for Braham to consider another run at the senior partner role.

However, an influential camp has been arguing for a new approach, with talk in recent weeks still focusing on a run for senior partner from Helmut Bergmann, the Berlin-based managing partner of continental Europe. Bergmann has been touted as part of a reformist leadership team including figures like Alan Mason, David Sonter and Claire Wills. Braham refused to comment on his intentions regarding leadership, insisting the team hires were ‘utterly unrelated’.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

For an in-depth look at Freshfields, see our cover feature from July

Legal Business

Tip of the iceberg: Beckwith prosecution sparks Freshfields misconduct and financial penalty clampdown

Tip of the iceberg: Beckwith prosecution sparks Freshfields misconduct and financial penalty clampdown

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has ushered in radical reforms to handling misbehaviour, including financial penalties, as the #MeToo fallout intensifies following former partner Ryan Beckwith’s prosecution for sexual misconduct.

The move sees a conduct committee established and new enforcement protocols which mean partners under internal investigation will receive a final warning about their behaviour and face an automatic fine equal to 20% of their profit share for 12 months.

The reforms come following the very public embarrassment Freshfields faced in the month that 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.

The new rules are being implemented through a draft consultation and would require changes to the firm’s members’ agreement. The objectives are: ‘aligning the firm’s partner conduct and disciplinary process across the firm; supporting the objectives of the culture and behaviour programme; and meeting the expectations of our clients and regulators’.

Freshfields would establish a conduct committee – a subcommittee of the partnership council – to oversee investigations and decide outcomes.

The members’ agreement would also be updated to differentiate between forced retirement for misconduct reasons and other reasons including underperformance, enabling the partnership council to suspend a partner who is the subject of an investigation.

Beckwith was suspended last December and resigned this month [10 October] after the tribunal found he knew or ought to have known that the junior member of staff was intoxicated and her judgement impaired and that he knew or ought to have known that his conduct was inappropriate.

The tribunal found Beckwith’s behaviour was in breach of principles two and six of the solicitors’ code of conduct, requiring solicitors to ‘act with integrity’ and ‘behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services’.

Freshfields’ protocol will include guidance on what constitutes improper behaviour and provide clarity on what circumstances will be considered to mitigate an outcome, and what are aggravating factors.

Senior partner Edward Braham said: ‘We are committed to improving behaviour and inclusiveness. For more than a year we have been running a global behaviours programme to drive culture change, which includes reviewing and adjusting our HR processes, governance and systems across the firm. We want to ensure that positive behaviour is consistently valued and that inappropriate behaviour is called out and acted upon. The plans for a conduct committee and protocol are part of this ongoing programme across the firm.’

#MeToo-related problems have become a constant for the legal industry, with further disciplinary hearings relating to sexual misconduct concerning former City head of Baker McKenzie, Gary Senior, and Allen & Overy employment partner Mark Mansell both set to appear before the SDT in December. The former case involves allegations against Senior, while Mansell’s hearing focuses on the wording of a controversial non-disclosure agreement the A&O lawyer drafted for Harvey Weinstein back in 1998 concerning claims of harassment made against the film producer. It is inevitable other City firms will be forced to follow Freshfields’ lead.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Dealwatch: Kirkland and Slaughters lead on £3.1bn Sophos take-private as Fried Frank advises on €11bn Permira final close

Dealwatch: Kirkland and Slaughters lead on £3.1bn Sophos take-private as Fried Frank advises on €11bn Permira final close

Continuing the recent trend for high-value take-private deals, the £3.1bn buyout of UK cybersecurity company Sophos Group Plc has prompted lead mandates for Slaughter and May and Kirkland & Ellis as a transatlantic team from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson advised Permira on the €11bn final close of its seventh buyout fund.

Oil & gas deals have also kept City teams busy with White & Case, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Mayer Brown all fielding teams on lead mandates.

European private equity giant Permira yesterday (16 October) announced it had reached its hard cap on the fund – Permira VII (P7) – with commitments from new and existing investors. Fundraising started in January for the fund, which will invest in the key sectors of technology, consumer, financial services, healthcare, industrial tech and services.

The Fried Frank team was led by corporate partners Richard Ansbacher (Washington, DC) and Kenneth Rosh (New York), and included London corporate partners Sam Wilson, Gregg Beechey and Mark Mifsud, as well as tax partner David Shapiro and executive compensation & ERISA partner Jeffrey Ross in New York.

Kirkland & Ellis advised Surf Buyer Limited, a newly-formed company owned by funds managed by US private equity player Thoma Bravo, on its buyout of the Oxfordshire-based Sophos Group.

The recommended cash acquisition means that Sophos shareholders will be entitled to receive $7.40 in cash per share.

Following the announcement of the buyout on Monday (14 October), Sophos share prices spiked 37% and shares were trading at 571.4 pence. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2015.

The Kirkland team was led by London M&A partners David Holdsworth, David Higgins and David D’Souza and Chicago M&A partners Gerald Nowak, Corey Fox, Bradley Reed and Amelia Davis, as well as Chicago debt finance partners Francesco Penati and Maureen Dixon and London debt finance partners Kirsteen Nicol and Stephen Lucas.

Holdsworth told Legal Business: ‘We have been very active on UK P2Ps in 2019 having acted on Merlin, Inmarsat and EI Group. We expect this trend to continue into 2020.’

Slaughter and May is advising Sophos with a team led by London corporate partners Steve Cooke and Robert Innes and also including competition partner Will Turtle, employment and share schemes partner Phil Linnard and tax partner Gareth Miles.

Innes told Legal Business: ‘I think the share prices steadily going up since spring this year has recovered people’s confidence in the company. The premium they’ve offered is a de-risking of that recovery for shareholders.’

‘We’re seeing quite a lot of private equity money and a return to public-to-private in the last two years. Private equity companies are seeing value in UK stocks. I think there’s also consolidation within the tech sector as well,’ Innes added.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020.

Meanwhile, White & Case advised West African oil operator Seplat Petroleum Development Company on its acquisition of Aberdeen-based and London-listed oil and gas company Eland Oil & Gas Plc for £382m. An agreement was reached with Seplat Petroleum on a recommended cash acquisition for its entire share capital.

The White & Case team was led by partners Allan Taylor, Mukund Dhar and Philip Broke.

Taylor told Legal Business: ‘The Eland assets are adjacent to Seplats’ assets in the Niger delta in Nigeria. Seplat is a company that has greater scale with a focus on being a leading independent Nigerian operator. For a number of businesses, the ability to produce assets that operate in a viable scale and picking up small individual assets in a non-strategic manner isn’t viewed as efficient by stakeholders.’

A Mayer Brown team led by corporate and securities partners Kate Ball-Dodd and Rob Hamill advised Eland.

Elsewhere, Freshfields advised Neptune Energy on its acquisition of Edison E&P’s UK and Norwegian producing, development and exploration assets from Energean Oil & Gas. The deal included a conditional agreement of $250m cash with additional cash contingent consideration of up to $30m.

The Freshfields team was led by partners Samuel Newhouse and Graham Watson. The team also advised Neptune Energy on its acquisition of ENGIE E&P in February 2018.

A White & Case team led by London partners Allan Taylor and Richard Jones along with support from partners Peita Menon (London) and Veronica Pinotti (Milan) advised Energean Oil & Gas.

Taylor told Legal Business: ‘The strategy is to focus on being the leading E&P business in the Mediterranean. They’ve identified what they consider as non-core assets and these included the Nordic assets. They are following up on their strategy for the disposal of their non-core assets.’

The firm also advised Energean earlier this year on its acquisition of Edison E&P for $750m. The acquisition is dependent on Energean completing its proposed acquisition of Edison E&P.

muna.abdi@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Tribunal finds against Freshfields partner in high-profile misconduct case

Tribunal finds against Freshfields partner in high-profile misconduct case

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer restructuring partner Ryan Beckwith engaged in sexual activity with a junior female colleague in circumstances in which she was ‘intoxicated to the extent that her judgment was impaired’, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) found today (10 October).

The SDT said at a hearing this morning that Beckwith knew or ought to have known that the junior member of staff was intoxicated and her judgement impaired and that he knew or ought to have known that his conduct was inappropriate. The verdict followed a seven-day hearing that has attracted a stream of headlines.

The tribunal found Beckwith’s behaviour was in breach of principles two and six of the solicitors’ code of conduct, requiring solicitors to ‘act with integrity’ and ‘behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services’.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority referred Beckwith to the SDT for prosecution in late June 2018 over allegations focusing on two instances: that Beckwith kissed or attempted to kiss Person A (the SDT 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. Both Beckwith and Person A, then an associate at the Magic Circle firm in the restructuring team, were allegedly intoxicated at celebratory events organised by Freshfields in 2016.

The first instance was not found proven, while the second was proven to the required standard. The tribunal made no finding on the issue of consent to the sexual activity.

Beckwith resigned from Freshfields this morning. His lawyer, Alisdair Williamson QC of Three Raymond Buildings, said in mitigation that Beckwith does not know if he can or will work again.

Williamson maintained that Beckwith didn’t initiate the sexual activity but engaged in it, which was inappropriate. He said that Beckwith had not worked since December last year, when Freshfields suspended him on indefinite leave, and had a reduced fee earning role before then.

Calling for mitigation, Williamson pressed the tribunal to consider character evidence, which showed Beckwith was ‘a man who, other than this blemish, was a shining example in the profession’. He urged the SDT to minimise any suspension so that Beckwith could rehabilitate himself. Williamson ended his speech by describing Beckwith as ‘a good man who has been broken by this process’.

SDT chair Nicola Lucking said that consent was not an issue in this case, noting that the SRA had put the allegations forward on the basis that consent was not material to the prosecution.

The SDT fined Beckwith £35,000 and ordered him to pay legal costs of £200,000. Beckwith, who had denied the claims, now has 21 days to appeal the decision. A full written judgment will be published in seven weeks. The ruling comes after 18 months of embarrassing disclosures for the legal industry regarding allegations of harassment and poor treatment of female staff.

Freshfields senior partner Edward Braham issued a statement: ‘We note the ruling of the SDT tribunal earlier today.  Ryan Beckwith has been on indefinite leave from the firm for some time and has now resigned as a partner with immediate effect.

‘The firm takes all complaints extremely seriously. We want a culture that is welcoming and allows our people to flourish, and we work hard to achieve that. We are running a firm-wide programme to ensure our values and behaviours are consistently experienced across the firm, and I am confident we will continue to achieve change where it is needed.’

The first incident in the prosecution took place in May 2016 after a celebratory work event in Oxfordshire. Beckwith was alleged to have kissed or attempted to kiss Person A at a karaoke bar in London that members of the team subsequently went on to drink at later that day. This allegation was not proven.

The second incident took place after an impromptu after-work drinks at the Harrow pub near Freshfields’ Fleet Street offices in July 2016. Beckwith has been found to have engaged in sexual activity with Person A in this instance. The tribunal heard earlier this month that Person A and Beckwith both went back to Person A’s flat. Person A said that she was intoxicated and vulnerable and that her state would have been apparent.

The married father-of-one had argued that Person A had made false allegations against him, that the encounter with her in July had been consensual and that his behaviour was inappropriate from a personal perspective rather than a professional one.

The case has generated a series of lurid headlines for the profession and comes ahead of further disciplinary hearings related to allegations of harassment. The former City head of Baker McKenzie, Gary Senior, and Allen & Overy employment partner Mark Mansell will appear before the SDT in December. The former case relates to a complaint made against Senior, while Mansell’s hearing revolves around his role in drafting a controversial non-disclosure agreement for film producer Harvey Weinstein.

Today’s ruling will also be picked over for potentially resetting the range of regulatory action against solicitors as attitudes harden towards harassment of female staff in the #MeToo era.

Andrew Katzen, head of regulatory law at Hickman & Rose, commented: ‘This case marks a turning point in the way the SRA addresses the increasingly blurred boundary between private and working lives. The allegations against Mr Beckwith were extremely serious but… allegations that, only a few years ago, would likely have been rejected by the SRA as outside their remit.

‘This is the first in a line of SDT hearings in which male partners of City and US law firms are accused of rape, sexual harassment and subsequent cover-ups – allegations which would traditionally be dealt with by a criminal court. As the SRA and the SDT adapt to these new types of misconduct, there are serious questions about whether they can do so fairly.’

marco.cillario@legalease.co.uk

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

Financial centre: Three Crowns chooses Middle East for first office since launch

Financial centre: Three Crowns chooses Middle East for first office since launch

Boutique arbitration firm Three Crowns has opened a Middle Eastern office in Bahrain, its first expansion since being founded five years ago.

Three Crowns opened in Washington, Paris and London in April 2014 after being set up by former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer arbitration partners Constantine Partasides, Georgios Petrochilos and Jan Paulsson as well as former partners from Jones Day, Covington & Burling and Shearman & Sterling.

Today (1 October), it announced it was establishing a presence in the Middle East to serve clients including the Kingdom of Bahrain and Sultanate of Oman. It has also advised in the energy, construction, telecoms and defence sectors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya and Iraq.

The firm focuses exclusively on arbitration: commercial, investment-treaty, and inter-state. Founding partner Paulsson and partner Scott Vesel will jointly lead the Bahrain office.

Paulsson moves from the Washington office and has decades of experiences practising as an advocate and arbitrator in international cases including cases in the Middle East. Vesel has acted in international investment and commercial arbitrations in the oil and gas, construction, energy, technology and agribusiness sectors in jurisdictions across the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.

Paulsson commented: ‘We’ve had a number of significant cases that have been handled out of our other offices. Those of us who like living in this region want to cut down on our own travelling and obviously it’s more efficient for us to work more locally, rather than commuting, so it makes sense from that point of view. There are the usual significant construction disputes. I have been more involved in the energy area and in finance.’

The firm currently has two partners and one associate in Bahrain but Paulsson says the firm may hire locally and that the office won’t stay at one associate for very long. ‘The firm has grown beyond our expectations. We were content with the idea of moving slowly but it never works out that way,’ he added, while saying that the firm has no current plans to open in other jurisdictions saying, ‘From our side, we need to assimilate before we move on’.

The firm has 53 lawyers across all four offices. Last year, Three Crowns hired Freshfields litigation partner Reza Mohtashami QC, who rose to prominence in London as part of the firm’s well-established international arbitration practice after a successful five-year stint in Dubai.

muna.abdi@legalease.co.uk

Legal Business

A&O adds NY capability in London as Freshfields lures Linklaters Paris partner

A&O adds NY capability in London as Freshfields lures Linklaters Paris partner

A double Magic Circle hire today (17 September) has seen Allen & Overy (A&O) hiring financial services regulation counsel Knox McIlwain as a partner from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer bolstered its own regulatory offering, hiring Linklaters’ Paris FinReg partner Marc Perrone.

The hire of McIlwain reunites him with Bob Penn, A&O’s former financial regulatory services head, who re-joined the firm in June 2018 having defected for a two-year stint at Cleary. It also makes good on A&O’s plan to accelerate investment in its US-law capability following protracted and ultimately fruitless merger talks with Los Angeles firm O’Melveny & Myers. Senior partner, Wim Dejonghe, said that the hire demonstrates the firm’s commitment to growing its top-tier global regulatory practice and building on its US capabilities.

Located in London, McIlwain will also form an integral part of the US regulatory team and will focus on financial institution resilience and insolvency as well as working with the global derivatives practice.  Damian Carolan, head of A&O’s London financial services regulatory practice, commented: ‘A huge challenge our clients face is managing the regulatory change agenda across the US, EU and Asia-Pacific. There has been a deluge of reform covering all aspects of financial services, which remains at varying stages of implementation or revision. Knox’s arrival will bolster our transatlantic regulatory capability and improve our coverage of financial institutions’ global regulatory needs.’

Meanwhile Freshfields is in growth mode in Paris, with the hire of Perrone following swiftly after that of arbitration partner Christophe Seraglini from French boutique Betto Seraglini. Perrone, who has been at Linklaters for 14 years and made partner in 2012, advises financial institutions, investment funds and financial services and market infrastructure operators.

Seraglini acts for international companies on disputes in the technology, energy and construction sectors.

Hervé Pisani, managing partner of Freshfields’ Paris office, said: The arrival of Marc and Christophe is a testament to the appeal of the firm and demonstrates our willingness to support our clients on the strategic issues they face, as well as our ambition to consolidate our position in the French and international market with an integrated, global offering in line with the economic and regulatory changes underway.’

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

 

Legal Business

Dealwatch: Slaughters leads on Hong Kong’s £32bn LSE bid as US firms tap into mid-market

Dealwatch: Slaughters leads on Hong Kong’s £32bn LSE bid as US firms tap into mid-market

Strategic deals have continued into September after a busy summer, with firms rallying to get deals over the line before a Brexit cliff-edge threatens to become a reality.

Slaughter and May has landed a mandate to advise Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) on a bid which, if successful, would see it acquire the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for £32bn. Partner David Watkins is leading the Slaughters team.

The proposed transaction has already sparked controversy around competition concerns as well as HKEX’s condition that any takeover would be conditional on LSE scrapping its planned $27bn acquisition of financial data business Refinitiv, a deal that was abnnounced in July.

The board of LSE yesterday (11 September) issued a statement describing the proposed acquisition by HKEX as ‘unsolicited, preliminary and highly conditional,’ confirming it continued to make good progress on the Refinitiv deal. A Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer team led by partners Andrew Hutchings and Stephen Hewes are advising LSE on the Refinitiv deal and is likely to be mandated on this latest transaction.

Meanwhile Weil, Gotshal & Manges is advising Campbell’s Soup Company on the sale of its European chips business which includes Kettle Chips and Metcalfe’s skinny popcorn to Dublin-based Valeo Foods for $80m.

The Weil team was led by corporate partners Michael Aiello, James Harvey and Mike Francies. Partners Joe Pari, Chayim Neubort and Oliver Walker are advising on the tax while partner Barry Fishley is advising on intellectual property and technology.

CapVest and its portfolio company Valeo Foods were advised by a Willkie Farr & Gallagher team led by David Arnold and included associates Andrew Gray, Amelia Doughty, Michael Grant and Gabriella Denlew. Partner Jane Scobie led on the tax aspects.

In 2017, Campbell’s bought Kettle Chips producer Snyder’s-Lane for $4.87bn. The transaction is part of the company’s strategy to focus on its core products of canned soup and snacks. This deal follows Campbell’s sale of Danish manufacturer of baked snacks Kelsen Group to Belgian holding company CTH Invest for $300m.

Campbell’s will retain the Kettle brand business in the US and other area, while Valeo takes control of its UK, Europe and Middle East operation.

Weil has advised Campbell’s on a number of transactions this year, namely the recent sale of KKR to Arnott’s. The deal is subject to customary closing conditions, regulatory approvals and consultations and is expected to close at the end of this year.

Elsewhere, Paul Hastings advised private equity firm Oakley Capital on its investment in the Italian high-end homeware business Alessi.

The Paul Hastings team was led by Anu Balasubramanian and included corporate associates David Prowse and Aimée Fabri from the London office and Juljan Puna and Giulia Fiorelli from the Milan office while Gatti Pavesi Bianchi advised on the financing aspects of the transaction.

Balasubramanian told Legal Business: ‘Given the macroeconomic climate in Europe and the political environment across the board with Brexit, I think there is concern that both the capital line as well as potential opportunities may not dry up necessarily but everything is going to potentially become a little more difficult. People are trying to get deals over the line which is probably why we had the busiest summer.’

Alessi was advised by a team from Italian firm Gattai, Minoli, Agostinelli Partners led by corporate partner Bruno Gattai and includes partners Federico BalRiccardo Agostinelli, Andrea Taurozzi and associates Jacopo Bennard and Jacopo Ceccherini.

Paul Hastings has advised Oakley Capital on its acquisition of EkonVideotel and Seagull as well as their joint venture with Admiral and Mapfre to acquire Rastreator and Acierto.

muna.abdi@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

Freshfields denies wrongdoing in tax advice amid €50m settlement payout

Freshfields denies wrongdoing in tax advice amid €50m settlement payout

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has brought to an end a lawsuit brought against the firm by the liquidator of the insolvent Maple Bank with a €50m settlement payment.

The settlement came to light on Thursday (29 August) at a creditors’ meeting when the liquidator, Michael Frege of CMS, said he had recovered €50m for creditors to settle a €95m claim against the Magic Circle firm brought in April.

The case centres on Freshfields’ advice to the German arm of Maple Bank over controversial ‘cum-ex’ transactions, which employed allegedly fraudulent taxing of dividends to benefit from multiple refunds on tax payments. The deals were outlawed in 2012 but not before numerous financial institutions including BNY Mellon, Deutsche Bank and Société Générale were caught up in the scandal.

Last year a series of raids were carried out by state prosecutors on the Frankfurt offices of Freshfields in connection with the Maples Bank mandate. In November 2018, it emerged that two of the firm’s partners were the subject of a criminal investigation into their role in the scandal.

Freshfields said in a statement: ‘A dispute regarding a potential liability claim stemming from a mandate completed several years ago has been resolved. The parties have agreed after intensive discussions that not only the claim for payment of €95m, but also additional claims, will be withdrawn. We are convinced that our advice always complied with applicable law.’

A spokesperson for CMS told Legal Business: ‘German insolvency proceedings are non-public. Thus, we are not able to provide any further information on this matter. However, as already reported in the press, we can confirm that a settlement has been reached with the amount stated.’

Michael Weigel, litigation partner at Arnold & Porter in Frankfurt, acted for Freshfields and Linklaters advised Frege on behalf of the creditors of Maple Bank.

nathalie.tidman@legalease.co.uk

For more on Freshfields, see our cover feature ‘‘The devil you know – The two visions for Freshfields’ (£)