FFW IP head Mark Abell claims “ambush” ahead of Bird & Bird move

Field Fisher Waterhouse’s (FFW) head of IP and IT Mark Abell has resigned to join Bird & Bird.

FFW’s management has in turn suspended Abell from the partnership in a move which it says “protects the interests” of the firm.

A brief statement from FFW today said: “We can confirm that Mark Abell has resigned from the partnership of Field Fisher Waterhouse to join another firm. To protect the interests of the firm, the supervisory board has suspended Mark from the partnership. We cannot comment any further at this stage.”

Speaking to The Lawyer, Abell claimed he was “ambushed” in a meeting with the supervisory board and executive committee, which is led by Dominic Gurney-Champion.

He said: “I’ve been in negotiations with the firm for an orderly and good-natured exit and I have absolutely no idea why yesterday I was called to a meeting and told they wanted to put me on gardening leave.

“No explanation was given. I thought the meeting was to finalise the terms of my departure. I was surprised and had no idea. I wish the firm no ill. I’ve been there for 28 – mostly happy – years. All I was asking was to be allowed to fulfil the potential of my practice.”

Abell said he was leaving because he was the “highest qualified lawyer” in his field and wanted to take his practice to the next level with the international scope that Bird & Bird offers in the Middle East and Far East.

He said he had “outgrown the firm”.

“I’ve been completely open with them about my desire to move to a more developed international platform of substance. I made this quite plain more than two months ago. I was open and candid. I was told I would be missed but my understanding was that we agreed a convivial and amiable exit. Instead I was ambushed,” Abell claimed.

He added: “Bird & Bird is the perfect strategic fit. I need a platform that’s global and that’s got the highest level of appropriate skills. I want to do nothing other than build the biggest and best practice in the world. I know I can do it.”

Abell’s resignation follows earlier news of German head and IP specialist Joachim Feldges’ departure for Allen & Overy’s Munich office (6 November 2012).

Tensions within FFW’s partnership have been blamed for two failed mergers with Lawrence Graham (28 June 2012) and Osborne Clarke (14 November 2012). FFW managing partner Matthew Lohn, who was the driving force behind the LG merger talks, has been on leave since the summer. He has just returned to the firm.

In his absence, technology and outsourcing head Michael Chissick is filling in on an interim basis.

In 2011 Abell resigned from the firm’s management board (5 December 2011). A clause in the FFW partnership agreement prevented Abell from standing for managing partner (24 September 2012).