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Allen & Overy's Guy Beringer accuses companies of using conflict rules for own commercial gain
Proposals for harmonising conflict codes across jurisdictions were voiced for the first time at the International Bar Association (IBA) conference. In a speech to delegates at the conference in Mexico last week, Allen & Overy senior partner Guy Beringer proposed that the IBA should set up an international code to deal with conflict issues. He denied that the code should encompass all clients and all cases, and said that it should apply to only sophisticated clients and should deal with only general conflicts. Beringer claimed that the consolidation of industry combined with the growth of law firms means that powerful clients are able to use conflict rules for their own commercial advantage. "Some clients try to find conflicts in order to knock out opposition advisers," he said. "Conflicts should be a protection rather than an offensive weapon." He added that when a client asks a firm not to advise one of its competitors, it should be seen as a client relationship issue rather than a conflict issue.
"Conflicts should be a protection rather than an offensive weapon" Guy Beringer, Allen & Overy
However, another member of the panel, RamóMullerat from Spanish firm Mullerat, asked how law firms would define 'sophisticated clients'. He said that a partial code such as Beringer was suggesting, would lead to issues being split between transactional and contentious cases, and between smaller and larger firms. "Beringer's idea is for super law firms with super clients working on super deals," he said. Another concern was that a separate IBA code would mean that each jurisdiction would have to accommodate two sets of rules. Continental conflict rules are much more flexible than those in the UK. In the rest of Europe lawyers can act against a current client on matters unrelated to advice given to that client. This is not allowed under Law Society rules. In March last year, the City of London Law Society published a paper suggesting that the current regulations ought to be brought into line with Continental guidelines. It argued that the current situation disadvantaged UK law firms (The Lawyer, 7 March 2000).