A&O faces yet another storm over conflicts

Allen & Overy (A&O) has become embroiled in yet another potential conflict of interest. This time the firm is advising advertising giant WPP, a favourite to buy its troubled rival Cordiant Group and Cordiant’s lending banks, which have the final say over who the company sells to.

If WPP tables a bid and Cordiant lets the banks choose the buyer, this could result in A&O negotiating with itself on either side of a Chinese wall. One leading restructuring lawyer said: “This situation is possible and would present a completely untenable conflict.”

A&O refused to comment on the fact that it may be advising WPP, even though it is the company’s main corporate adviser. The Lawyer understands that a team from A&O’s corporate department is advising WPP on its interest in Cordiant, while lawyers from its banking department are representing Cordiant’s banks.

One possibility is that Cordiant could be pushed into administration, which would reduce the risk of conflict as the administrator, and not the banks, would have power over the company.

This is the latest in a series of embarrassing conflict situations faced by A&O this year.

Last month, ABN Amro, the bank for Wm Morrison, ditched A&O as its adviser on the Safeway battle after it was discovered that the firm was advising the bank representing rival bidder Wal-Mart. In February, The Lawyer revealed that A&O was advising TXU Europe joint administrator KPMG alongside multiple competing creditors of the collapsed energy company.