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As Hogan Lovells partners and employees passed through the stages of denial, anger, depression and finally acceptance last week, the rest of the world was digesting the extraordinary news that litigation partner Christopher Grierson had been dismissed for claiming more than £1m in false expenses.
The story broke on TheLawyer.com on Tuesday morning (17 May). By lunchtime it had attracted a huge number of comments, and by the end of the week it was already on its way to being one of the most read stories ever on TheLawyer.com. The psychologists were having a field day over Grierson’s motivation, while the ironists were enjoying the fact that his specialism was insolvency, fraud and asset tracing. As the week went on the debate shifted. Was Grierson being treated differently because he was a partner and - in the words of a number of Hogan Lovells staffers who posted - a “gentleman”?
“This kind of sympathy for what appears a criminal act is classic public school morality - if he’s a ’gent’ then he must be alright,” wrote one poster in a typical comment. “The subtext of such sentiments is that if you are rich you are above the law. If a support staff member had stolen £1m from HL there would be universal derision for the person.”
However, as we reveal today, the firm has not ruled out involving the police - far from it.
“There’s no thought of protecting Christopher from the consequences of his actions,” says one source waspishly. Hogan Lovells was duty-bound to report this to the SRA, but involving the police would have put that investigation on hold and hampered its ability to get all the details out in one information dump. When The Lawyer called early on Tuesday the Hogan Lovells press team was primed. No surprise there - a drip-feed of details in the next few months would have been reputationally toxic.
Hogan Lovells will certainly have to answer difficult questions about internal controls. The problem is that law firms have to work on the basis that you can trust partners - especially, as in Grierson’s case, if they’re seen as jolly good chaps. The person in the lowly accounts department who challenged his version of events deserves, therefore, a round of applause.