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21 February 2014
London lawyers rise to terror attack challenge
There is nothing like being prepared, but even Allen & Overy cannot have expected its emergency training to be put to use quite so suddenly. Last Thursday (7 July), the firm's management was starting a day-long exercise on disaster training. A former Sky reporter was on hand to brief David Morley, Guy Beringer and co on what to say to the press in the event of an emergency. Heads of departments were lined up ready to take charge of their people. And the head of security played his part, bursting in to break the news that a series of bombs had gone off around the City. Except this was no rehearsal, it was macabre reality.
Clifford Chance, too, was well prepared, having held its disaster recovery meeting just last Wednesday; and across the City, firms, chambers and organisations reacted quickly in the wake of the ghastly attack on London. Many firms supplied food to its staff, free phone numbers to provide travel information and shuttle buses to rail services.
Herbert Smith was forced to evacuate its building on Friday morning when a suspect package was found near Exchange House. Weil Gotshal & Manges endured no fewer than five suspect package alerts during the course of Friday, but staff remained in the building on each occasion. In any event, most staff were advised to remain at home on Friday, with the core instant response group holding the fort.
Linklaters, which offered free food and accommodation to stranded staff, has a protective covering on its glass windows to reduce the impact of an explosion.
Elsewhere, the High Court took the decision late on Thursday to shut until Monday, more fearful that travel chaos would prevent lawyers, witnesses and staff making it to court than of any real terror threat. But Peter Hughes QC, the head of Tanfield Chambers, who was sitting as a deputy High Court judge, was not having his family case disrupted. Rather than adjourn proceedings until Monday, at great inconvenience to all parties - particularly a US lawyer who was due to fly home at the weekend - he arranged for his chambers to host the hearing on Friday.
Commendable stoicism from London's legal community.
Mid-tier firm SJ Berwin looks to have developed ambitious plans to expand its European exposure by beefing up its German real estate practice at the same time as entering into the Italian market.
Just as White & Case looks to have decided to withdraw from Rome in favour of Milan, SJ Berwin has begun to scout around for lateral hires to launch an Italian arm of its own. Headhunters for the firm have approached a number of rainmakers at Italy's top firms, but have so far been unable to snare a lateral or team hire. One well-placed source claimed that the exorbitant remuneration packages demanded by Italian lawyers have caused difficulties, as has SJ Berwin's lack of a "clear strategy for the Italian market".
But just as it looked likely that SJ Berwin would have to wait until after the summer to resume its Italian push, White & Case has provided the perfect opportunity by pulling out of Rome. Hopefully, SJ Berwin will not have to resort to similar tactics in Germany, where it is also searching for partners to bolster its real estate practice.