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White & Case last Friday (24 October) lost out in a bitter court battle started by Hong Kong firm Deacons over a team of star insolvency partners that the US firm poached in 2002.
The Hong Kong High Court ruled that two of the partners, Edward Cairns and Mark Fairbairn, breached their partnership contract, illegally tried to persuade Deacons clients to follow them and passed confidential information to White & Case while at Deacons.
The judge also held that White & Case encouraged the pair in the first two offences. The firm's conduct, the judge said, showed "a cynical disregard for the rights of Deacons, putting profit before honour".
Fairbairn, Cairns and the firm will now have to pay damages, yet to be assessed.
However, White & Case won an earlier arbitrated case, which allowed Cairns and Fairbairn to work at the US firm despite a five-year restrictive covenant with Deacons. Nothing in Friday's judgment precludes the partners from working for White & Case or for their main client, Standard Chartered Bank.
A White & Case statement said: "We with our counsel are studying the decision and reviewing options, including the option of an appeal."