Legal Business

Ex-Mishcon partner hit with £17,500 SRA fine over conduct breach

Ex-Mishcon partner hit with £17,500 SRA fine over conduct breach

A former Mishcon de Reya partner has accepted a £17,500 penalty for his conduct which contributed to the record £232,500 SRA settlement agreed with the firm in January.

In an agreement published yesterday (7 March), Michael Nouril admitted to serious breaches of money laundering regulations relating to work for two individual clients, and corporate vehicles connected with the same two individual clients. In addition to the settlement, he will also pay  £3,500 in costs.

The breaches admitted to by Nouril include a failure to obtain a full set of due diligence documents as well as permitting transactions in and out of the firm’s client account that did not relate to an underlying legal transaction.

As with the penalty accepted by Mishcon earlier this year, this fine was calculated based on the fining powers of the SRA for alternative business structures, which far outreach their powers to impose financial penalties on traditional law firms. If Mishcon was not an ABS, the SRA’s fine would have been capped at £2,000 with referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal needed for penalties exceeding that amount. This is despite SRA’s attempts to increase the limits, including its renewed plea in a consultation launched in November 2021 which proposed an increase of the maximum fine it can issue solicitors and law firms to £25,000.

It could have been worse for Nouril, as the final fine was reduced by 30% from £25,000. The discount was made on account of mitigating factors, including his cooperation with the SRA investigation and a commitment to reduce the risk of repetition of similar issues.

The corporate lawyer, who has not been practising since he left Mishcon in April 2020, has since undertaken comprehensive training with respect to anti-money laundering and the SRA Accounts Rules.

For Mishcon, the continuation of this matter comes amid preparation for its IPO, which included the appointment of five new directors to serve on its plc board last month.

Legal Business

Mishcon hit with record £232,500 SRA penalty over money laundering mishaps

Mishcon hit with record £232,500 SRA penalty over money laundering mishaps

In an unflattering revelation ahead of its planned IPO, Mishcon de Reya yesterday (5 January) received the highest-ever financial penalty issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of £232,500 for a string of failures related to money laundering rules.

The firm, which has also been issued with a £50,000 costs order, admitted to failing to provide adequate due diligence on four client matters. It also accepted it had misplaced the hard copy evidence of the due diligence it carried out on those matters.

The financial ramifications could have been worse for Mishcon – the SRA calculated the penalty as 0.25% of the firm’s £155m turnover (£387,500), but this was reduced by 40% due to mitigating factors, such as the firm’s assistance with the investigation.

According to the judgment, between September 2015 and April 2017, the firm carried out work for two individual clients, and for corporate vehicles connected with those same two individual clients. This work related to a non-SRA regulatory investigation, asset planning for one of the individuals, and the initial stages of the proposed acquisition of two separate entities.

Mishcon believed it had completed due diligence for the clients, but no hard copy evidence could be provided, nor any electronic records.

The SRA also said that both proposed acquisitions presented a ‘higher risk of money laundering or terrorist financing’ under the relevant money laundering legislation in force at the time, because they involved companies in high-risk jurisdictions. This therefore required ‘enhanced customer due diligence’, which was not provided.

Mishcon commissioned an external investigation into the incidents, which found that the partner associated with these client relationships had not received mandatory training as required by anti-money laundering regulations.

In addition, the SRA found that between September 2017 and October 2018, the firm acted in three other property transactions where due diligence was not correctly completed, with Mishcon again failing to retain suitable evidence of this due diligence.

A Mishcon spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased to have come to a settlement with the SRA relating to two separate and historic investigations in relation to which we have made appropriate admissions. Mitigating factors such as our cooperation with the SRA throughout the investigations and the corrective action we have taken since to prevent a recurrence have been recognised by the SRA in reaching this outcome.’

It compounds a difficult year for Mishcon as it gears up for its public listing, with a number of partners leaving the firm during 2021 . This is also not its first regulatory misstep in recent months – in October the firm was fined £25,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) for failing to prevent payments being made into and from the client account, with the monies being paid to third parties involved in football transfers.

While there have been larger fines that have resulted from full investigations passed on to the SDT, with Locke Lord’s £500,000 sanction in 2017 being the record, Mishcon’s penalty of £232,500 is the largest to be agreed directly with the regulator. The previous record was the £124,436 penalty the SRA agreed with in March 2019, which related to misleading customers via the firm’s marketing materials.

Legal Business

Legal Business Awards 2020 – Lawyer of the Year

Legal Business Awards 2020 – Lawyer of the Year

After reviewing the evidence for dozens of candidates, we are delighted to reveal our Lawyer of the Year for the 2020 Legal Business Awards.

This award acknowledges a truly exceptional individual contribution to the profession during 2019 by private practitioners, in-house counsel and barristers. Judges were looking for evidence of exceptional performance in any area that makes the chosen lawyer stand out from their peers.



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Winner – James Libson, Mishcon de Reya

While managing partner James Libson has played a central role in the dynamic growth of Mishcon de Reya over the last 20 years, his recent work in using the law to counter discrimination in the Labour Party and his role in the Miller prorogation case gave him the edge in this category.

2019 saw him defend high-profile politicians, including Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger who were the victims of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, as well as representing the Jewish Labour Movement in its referral of the Labour Party to the Equality and Human Rights Commission – a strategy Libson conceived and executed.

Libson has acted for whistleblowers in the health, financial services and political sectors since the legislation was introduced in 1998 and also defended several of the whistleblowers under attack from the Labour Party.

He also led the solicitor team that represented Gina Miller in her case against of the government’s decision to trigger Article 50 without a vote of parliament and more recently was instructed by Miller again in relation to the proroguing of parliament by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to bypass a vote in parliament to achieve a no-deal Brexit.

In this second historic victory, the Supreme Court held: ‘The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.’

Mishcon said Libson’s work was characterised by acting almost always on behalf of clients at the epicentre of hostile, extreme (and often violent in its discourse) attention. Outside the law, Libson is noted for being extremely active in the charity sector, in particular in causes addressing the needs of refugees.

Highly Commended – Tammy Samuel, Stephenson Harwood

Head of the rail sector group and recently promoted to global head of Stephenson Harwood’s finance practice, Samuel combines a market-leading practice for clients such as TfL and the Department of Transport with her role as mentor and spokesperson for gender and sexual orientation diversity within the profession.

As well as balancing her impressive career, Samuel has four children, is an ex-England and Saracens rugby player and coaches and sponsors a girls’ rugby team. Her contribution to promoting women in rail and law, as well as her commitment to wider diversity, is outstanding.

Samuel regularly represents Stephenson Harwood at Aspiring Solicitors events that seek to improve access to the profession and in March 2019 she helped launch the firm’s LGBT+ network by interviewing rugby player and activist Gareth Thomas at a launch event.

Recent mandates include advising TfL on Crossrail and the Department of Transport on a variety of matters. She has also given evidence to the UK House of Commons Transport Select Committee as part of its inquiry into rail infrastructure investment.

Other nominations

Emilie Cole, Irwin Mitchell

Cole represented district judge Claire Gilham in a landmark victory in the Supreme Court, convincing the court that she should be granted the same legal protections as other whistleblowers under her European human rights and securing protection for all UK statutory office holders.

Andrew Lidbetter, Herbert Smith Freehills

Leading HSF’s London public law practice, Lidbetter had an outstanding 2019 during which he handled judicial review, public inquiry and other regulatory work across a range of commercial sectors and pro bono for NGOs. This has resulted in him having three successful judgments intervening for clients at Supreme Court level, including in the parliament prorogation case in September.

Joanne Wicks QC, Wilberforce Chambers

A leading light at the property Bar, in the past 12 months Wicks QC has appeared in the Supreme Court twice (in S Franses v The Cavendish Hotel and Dr Julia Duval v 11-13 Randolph Crescent) and the Court of Appeal (in Churston Golf Club v Haddock). Furthermore, she appeared in Canary Wharf v European Medicines Agency, one of the most high-profile property cases of 2019.

Legal Business

HSF ensures victory for regulator in major Covid-19 insurance test case 

HSF ensures victory for regulator in major Covid-19 insurance test case 

Herbert Smith Freehills  (HSF) has ensured victory for the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in a landmark test case intended to provide clarity on whether companies have valid business disruption insurance claims as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The High Court judgment handed down this morning (15 September) by Lord Justice Flaux and Mr Justice Butcher will be a heavy blow to insurers, with tens of thousands of businesses now potentially in line for payouts on their business interruption policies. 

HSF fielded global insurance and disputes head Paul Lewis on the matter, while Mishcon de Reya teamed up with litigation funder Harbour to represent the Hiscox Action Group. Allen & Overy, Clyde & Co, DAC Beachcroft and DWF were among those to advise the eight defendant insurance companies on the case. Meanwhile, HSF instructed Colin Edelman QC of Devereux Chambers, as well as Leigh-Ann Mulcahy QC and Richard Coleman QC of Fountain Court Chambers.

While the decision provides some needed clarity, the insurance industry is expected to appeal the decision, meaning business owners will still face uncertainty. The outcome could affect up to 370,000 business interruption policies across a number of sectors.

Commenting on the decision, Christopher Woolard, interim chief executive of the FCA, said: ‘We brought the test case in order to resolve the lack of clarity and certainty that existed for many policyholders making business interruption claims and the wider market.  We are pleased that the court has substantially found in favour of the arguments we presented on the majority of the key issues. Today’s judgment is a significant step in resolving the uncertainty being faced by policyholders. We are grateful to the court for delivering the judgment quickly and the speed with which it was reached reflects well on all parties.’

HSF’s Lewis commented: ‘This is a really significant judgment. It brings guidance to how business interruption insurance wordings should operate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had such a devastating effect on businesses across the country. The decision should bring welcome news to a significant number of policyholders who will need to read the judgment carefully and see how the principles laid down by the court apply to their particular policy wording. The speed with which the proceedings were brought is testament to the hard work of the FCA, Herbert Smith Freehills and counsel teams to bring this urgent case to the courts.’

Legal Business

‘Continue to be bold’: resilient Mishcon ups revenue again as PEP rediscovers momentum

‘Continue to be bold’: resilient Mishcon ups revenue again as PEP rediscovers momentum

Mishcon de Reya has become the latest firm in the LB100 to resist the economic onslaught of Covid-19 in its financial year end, the firm’s figures show, with revenues up for another year while profits regained momentum.

Turnover increased a healthy 6% from £177.8m to £188.3m over 2019/20, while profit per equity partner was up 5% to £1,050,000. Though the revenue growth is a comparative slowdown on last year’s pacier 10% rise, the rise in profits will be welcome after falling flat in 2018/19, and dropping 9% the year prior to that.

Commenting on the results, managing partner James Libson said: ‘It is heartening to see continued growth at the firm, which is underpinned by a strong performance across our entire offering – especially our dispute resolution and private teams, as well as an increasing number of institutional clients using our services.

‘The resilience of our transactional business – even as Covid bit – is a testament to the quality of our real estate and corporate offerings while continuing impressive growth in our litigation work over the past year has been characterised by large, high profile and often international cases. Our private team has seen great success across the board and particularly in ongoing areas of investment such as tax and wealth structuring (and the odd constitutional challenge).’

2020 has proved a tumultuous year particularly for Mishcon so far. In January, the firm announced it had withdrawn from Manhattan after ten years as the firm’s three remaining partners jumped ship to the New York office of King & Wood Mallesons. Later in February, the firm lost a pair of City disputes partners with Mohammed Khamisa QC and Masoud Zabeti departing for the London office of Greenberg Traurig.

However, in April the firm announced that highly-rated arbitrator Louis Flannery QC was joining the firm from Stephenson Harwood, where he headed up international arbitration for more than ten years. Then in May, Mishcon opened shop in Singapore, with an initial focus on delivering legal services to high net worth families across South East Asia.

Though Mishcon’s latest financials are robust, 2020/21 is when the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown will be felt in earnest. Regarding the tougher year ahead, Libson concluded: ‘We know that there will be choppy waters ahead as the ongoing impact of the pandemic is felt by businesses and families alike. However, we remain confident in our strategy and our 10-Year Vision, and will continue to be bold in pursuing our ambitious plans.’

Legal Business

More Mishcon losses as Greenberg makes dual disputes hire in London

More Mishcon losses as Greenberg makes dual disputes hire in London

Greenberg Traurig has hired a pair of disputes partners from Mishcon de Reya, in an uncommon departure for the litigation and private client specialists and a significant addition for the US outfit.

Partners Mohammed Khamisa QC and Masoud Zabeti are poised to join the London office of Greenberg. Zabeti is currently the head of the finance and banking disputes group at Mishcon, having first joined the firm over a decade ago. His practice focuses on advising hedge funds, asset managers and private equity houses on various disputes.

Khamisa, meanwhile, has been a partner in Mishcon’s banking and finance group since 2015, having formerly been joint head of chambers at Old Bailey Chambers. He was made Queen’s Counsel in 2006 and has experience in white collar crime having been on the Serious Fraud Office’s Panel of Leading Counsel.

Greenberg’s executive chairman Richard Rosenbaum commented: ‘Our strategy has long been to build and change from strength, always being ready for what was coming next. In our major financial centres, and in Europe generally, balancing our strong and growing transactional practices with strong capabilities in dispute and restructuring practices is fully consistent with our core philosophy.’

A statement from Mishcon’s head of dispute resolution Kas Nouroozi (pictured) read: ‘While the timing of their departure is yet to be agreed we thank both Masoud and Mohammed for their contribution over a number of years to the firm.’

For Mishcon, the exits make for more unwelcome news following the firm’s withdrawal from Manhattan after ten years in the City. The retreat was actioned in January after three partners decamped to the New York office of King & Wood Mallesons, with disputes partners Mark Raskin, Robert Whiteman and Vincent Filardo all leaving alongside six senior counsel and one paralegal.

Legal Business

Mishcon turns off the lights in New York as partners defect to KWM

Mishcon turns off the lights in New York as partners defect to KWM

Mishcon de Reya has called it quits in Manhattan after ten years as the firm’s three remaining partners jumped ship for the New York office of King & Wood Mallesons.

Dispute resolution partners Mark Raskin, Robert Whiteman and Vincent Filardo have joined the global disputes practice at KWM along with six senior counsel and one paralegal.

Raskin is an IP litigator experienced in patent, trademark, trade secret and copyright litigation with a focus on life sciences, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Whiteman is a trial lawyer who is experienced in patent cases in federal courts and focuses on electrical patent disputes. Filardo is a commercial litigator and trial lawyer dealing in commercial disputes, trade secrets and unfair competition, business tort, defamation, employment disputes and white-collar crime.

Raskin commented: ‘With KWM’s unique international platform and client base, together with our local capability and experience, we are very excited about the growth opportunities this move presents. We look forward to joining the global KWM network and leveraging our shared strengths to enhance the offering we provide to our clients in the US and around the world.’

Senior counsel Eric Berger, Michael DeVincenzo, Elizabeth Long, Andrea Pacelli, John Petrsoric and Charles Wizenfeld have also joined KWM from Mishcon.

Managing partner of Mishcon Kevin Gold said: ‘After much deliberation, we have agreed with the partners of Mishcon de Reya New York to withdraw from that business.

‘Mishcon de Reya New York was always a separate business to Mishcon de Reya in London, with different partners and a different structure. Over the last number of years, the New York office had focused its practice on contingency patent cases. This type of practice was no longer consistent with our business in London.

‘This will not affect the many relationships we have with other law firms based in the USA,’ added Gold.

Mishcon opened its New York office in 2010 and at one point had eight partners and 25 attorneys with capabilities in complex civil litigation, IP and patent litigation, family, international arbitration, internal investigations, white-collar criminal and regulatory defense, fraud and asset recovery, hedge and mutual funds and employment litigation.

In July last year Mishcon confirmed that it was considering all options for raising funds as part of its ‘ambitious plans’ for growth, including either an IPO or partnering with a private equity investor.

Legal Business

Revolving doors: US & City firms target Simmons & Simmons as Ashurst makes hires

Revolving doors: US & City firms target Simmons & Simmons as Ashurst makes hires

US & City firms saw a steady influx of lateral hires across sectors as Latham & Watkins, Allen & Overy (A&O) and Watson Farley & Williams hired partners from Simmons & Simmons.

US firm Latham hired Simmons’ head of equity capital markets, Chris Horton, as partner in its corporate department. Horton joined Simmons in 2008 and has experience advising on IPOs, secondary offerings and M&A transactions by listed companies, investment banks, and hedge funds.

Co-chair of Lathams’ corporate department Nick Cline commented: ‘Chris has a terrific blend of transactional and regulatory experience that will be of great value to our clients in the UK and globally.’

Global vice-chair of the corporate department David Walker added: ‘Chris’s experience complements and enhances the existing strength of our ECM and corporate practices in London and globally. His arrival will further advance our goal to become the market’s leading firm for complex, cross-border transactions.’

A&O similarly hired from Simmons, bringing in employment partner Vicky Wickremeratne to its London office. Wickremeratne became partner in 2015 and was previously the managing director and senior counsel of Goldman Sachs Asia, based in Hong Kong.

A&O head of London employment Sarah Henchoz told Legal Business: ‘Vicky spent a lot of time in-house before she joined Simmons & Simmons. She’s really good at looking at what the wider objective is rather than looking through a narrow lense and it’s a very unique perspective in many ways.’

Meanwhile, Watson Farley hired capital markets partner Simon Ovenden in London. Ovenden also joins from Simmons, where he was head of the debt capital market group. Ovenden has experience in debt and equity capital markets transactions and advises both underwriters and issuers across capital markets products.

Ovenden told Legal Business: ‘It is a challenging market with intense competition. You have to show clients something that really distinguishes you from the rest of the pack. You can’t be an average player in capital markets.’

‘It wasn’t a difficult sell for me to join. I like the people and I like the vision and the fact that they see capital markets as being part of what they want to offer,’ Ovenden added.

WFW managing partner Chris Lowe told Legal Business: ‘It’s not an easy market to attract high quality talent and I think it’s a testament to the firm and to Simon to have the vision that the platform will be able to deliver on what he does.

Elsewhere, Ashurst hired partner Ruby Hamid to its dispute resolution team in London. Hamid joins from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where she was counsel, and specialises in white-collar crime, financial regulation, global investigations and risk and compliance.

Head of dispute resolution in EMEA Tom Connor told Legal Business: ‘She brings a white collar crime practice and a deep expertise in corporate and financial crime – bribery and corruption work in particular will be a strong focus for Ruby. Ruby’s hire reflects our continuing focus on international investigations, alongside complex commercial litigation and international arbitration work.’

Mishcon de Reya, meanwhile, appointed Ben Brandon to its white collar crime and investigations team. He joins from barrister’s chambers 3 Raymond Buildings, and specialises in extradition and fraud.

Further afield, Ashurst made another hire from Freshfields in the form of Andrew Craig to its corporate practice in Melbourne, Australia. Craig specialises in digital economy and technology and has experience in advising corporate, private equity firms and financial institutions on technology transactions.

Legal Business

HSF and Mishcon enlisted as legal battle over suspension of Parliament intensifies

HSF and Mishcon enlisted as legal battle over suspension of Parliament intensifies

Sir John Major (pictured) has instructed litigation heavyweight Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) as the former Prime Minister looks to join investment manager Gina Miller in a legal challenge against the suspension of Parliament.

HSF disputes partner Andrew Lidbetter has been enlisted to instruct The Rt Hon Lord Edward Garnier QC and Tom Cleaver of Blackstone Chambers, with the pair representing Major as he looks to get behind the existing claim brought by Miller, rather than initiating separate proceedings.

Meanwhile, Mishcon de Reya partners James Libson and Rob Murray have been instructed by Miller.

In a statement, Major said: ‘I promised that, if the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament in order to prevent members from opposing his Brexit plans, I would seek judicial review of his action. If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the Court from the perspective of having served in government as a minister and Prime Minister, and also in Parliament for many years as a member of the House of Commons.’

Murray acted for Miller when Mishcon successfully pursued a claim in the Supreme Court that an Act of Parliament was required to trigger Brexit. However, a separate legal challenge against the proroguing of Parliament supported by 75 MPs failed today (30 August) after a Scottish judge temporarily refused to make an emergency order preventing the suspension.

While Miller’s 2017 claim proved successful, she is expected to face an uphill battle in convincing the courts a proroguing of Parliament is unconstitutional. Miller’s case also faces greater time constraints than in 2017, with judicial review a slow process which will have to be expedited. The time pressure will be all the greater as the side that loses the first review will likely appeal.

For more on the potential constitutional ramifications of Brexit read Legal Business’ analysis Brexit vs Dicey.

Legal Business

PEP stays flat for Mishcon as revenue growth regains momentum

PEP stays flat for Mishcon as revenue growth regains momentum

Mishcon de Reya has maintained steady revenue growth in its 2018/19 financial results, increasing its top line by 10% to £177.8m, as profit per equity partner (PEP) remained flat.

While the firm saw a greater revenue growth rate than the 8% uptick last year to £161.3m, PEP has failed to keep pace, with the flat result coming off the back of a 9% dip to £1m last year.

Turnover over the last few years has been relatively muted compared with a blistering 17% hike in 2016/17 and the firm’s pacey five year-growth trajectory of 82% since 2013.

Managing partner Kevin Gold (pictured) noted that the firm continued to grow and to thrive despite disruptive market conditions.

Earlier this month it emerged that Mishcon was considering options for raising capital as a means of funding its ‘ambitious plans’ for growth, including a possible stock market flotation.

Gold commented: ‘It has been reported that we are exploring raising capital. No decisions have yet been made. However we are and will remain committed to providing opportunities for our people to fulfil their potential.’

Mishcon said it plans to expand the business by branching into non-legal areas through the MDR Group. The firm launched MDR Brand Management in September last year, making it the fourth non-legal business within the firm. Gold said the firm aimed to be ‘technologically transformed’ to add value for clients and improve the business.