The more corporate the law becomes, the more emotional the fallout: discuss. Our three main stories this week all involve contentious partnership issues, in different forms.
Four months after a claim was first lodged, Greenberg Traurig Maher and former partner Andrew Croxford show every sign of heading for the London Central Employment Tribunal in September, with big-hitting counsel engaged on both sides. Clifford Chance has threatened to take action against the four partners leaving for Weil on the basis that they may have breached fiduciary duty – a response most politely described as ’muscular’ (a term that Clifford Chance partners seem to rather like, by the way).
Given that the main priority is to keep clients happy, and the second is to protect the £20m-odd revenue that the group generates, then legal action might be seen in some quarters as a somewhat disruptive act; but as an expression of displeasure – and indeed a message to the rest of the firm – it’s highly effective.
And then there’s Halliwells, which appears to be morphing into a Norse saga. The administrators at BDO, Dermot Power and Shay Bannon, have now taken the universally predicted step of attempting to recoup the £20.4m paid out to 32 former equity partners as a reverse premium on the Spinningfields development (see The Lawyer, passim).
Gateley, which took on the bulk of the defunct firm’s Manchester office, also took on a dozen equity partners at the time, but the rest of their fellows were scattered throughout firms such as Beachcroft, Fladgate, Heatons, Hill Dickinson and Kennedys. It’s still early days for those former partners to pull together any sort of coherent response, but history tends to show that partnership disputes are fought, are ugly, and are protracted; ask any Hammonds partner.
The collapse of Halliwells has yielded all sorts of sad stories. Over the past year we’ve explored the effect on its trainees and its creditors (remember the small London sandwich shop that was owed £6,000 and that subsequently laid off staff?). If the former equity partners who are being chased by BDO for the £20.4m do band together and contest the action, they’re going to have a tricky PR job. Put it this way: public sympathy may be in short supply.