Linklaters to launch radical overhaul of conflicts system

Linklaters is planning to introduce a 24-hour conflict check system similar to that employed by Clifford Chance, with staff working round the clock in at least three dedicated offices

The plans are part of the firm’s proposed Armstrong Project – named after the first man on the moon – which, in its first phase, will bring up to date its conflicts, billing and time recording systems, and will be followed in phase two by updates of its HR and marketing technologies.
The new system will be able to draw on far more information than the presnet system as it will be integrated with the firm’s financial system. It will also enable access to details concerning client relationships within client grouping and commercial sensitivities.
Eleni Pavlopoulos, head of conflicts, hopes the system will also be able to give clearance much quicker, even within an hour.
She said: “Linklaters has grown exponentially in the past few years and we want to have a worldwide conflicts system that is state of the art and provides partners with the best available information.”
The scheme will be put before Linklaters’ executive committee this week for approval.
Twenty-five of Linklaters’ offices, operate conflict checking systems, while the smallest offices refer checks to London. In the new system the number of outlets will be reduced to either three or four. The choice of locations – one or two in Europe, one in the Americas and another in Asia – are dictated by different time zones. There will be teams of operators working full-time in each centre, which will be manned 24 hours a day.
Linklaters cannot confirm how many staff will man the new conflict departments. Clifford Chance has 50 staff, but it is down to the conflict experts to make the final decision. At Freshfields, which set up its conflicts system in 1990, the burden is on partners to determine whether or not there is a conflict, based on information provided by 12 conflict operators.
Allen & Overy stores conflict information in a central computer in London, from which data is accessible by all of its global partners. This is due to be reviewed as the former head of the firm’s Germany office, Mark Welling, has been recalled to London to focus on global risk, which includes conflicts.
He said one area he will look at is setting up a system whereby partners can make so-called judgment calls at any time. These calls involve talking to a conflicts expert about tricky issues. For instance, some clients may place a condition on an instruction to A&O that could bar the firm from acting for another client during a certain period.