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The battle between Lester Aldridge and its former head of banking has taken another twist following an extraordinary statement from the firm last week.
As first revealed on Lawyer News Weekly (10 August), Lester Aldridge announced that it had started expulsion proceedings against Kevin Heath, its former head of banking and finance, after discovering his plan to take a team of lawyers and clients to Salans. Just under a fortnight earlier, The Lawyer (1 August) was the first to expose the fact that Lester Aldridge was suing Heath to enforce its partnership deed. The agreement includes a restrictive covenant that requires partners to repay 30 per cent of all fees earned from clients for a year after the partner leaves. Heath has since issued a counterclaim and the case has been listed for trial in December.
In a prepared statement, Lester Aldridge chairman Jeremy Allin said: "Legal action would always be a last resort for Lester Aldridge. We've taken this action to protect the firm and its partners and staff. We became aware of this because staff, who preferred to stay with us rather than to follow him, told us about his plans. These were so well advanced that we decided our only option was to obtain an injunction to stop them."
In response, Heath told The Lawyer: "I don't accept that I'm bound by the partnership agreement on which they seek to rely and therefore dispute their ability to remove me from the firm."
Heath is still set to join Salans, taking with him fellow banking partner Bill McCaffrey. Concerning the appointments of Heath and McCaffrey, Salans chairman Stephen Finch said: "We have a very strong retail banking group and Bill and Kevin will make very good additions with their expertise in consumer finance."
Lester Aldridge has appointed Rachel Small, who joined the firm in 1998, as its new head of banking and finance. She will head a team of 13 lawyers.