White & Case and Hong Kong firm Deacons could teach the
British Royal Family a thing or two about bitter divorces.
The curtain has finally come down on the two-year battle
between the firms over a group of insolvency partners who
defected to White & Case in June 2002.
Mark Fairbairn and Edward Cairns, the two key Deacons
partners involved, and the two firms have settled in
advance of yet another appeal, this time by White & Case
and the two partners.
The Hong Kong high court ruled last year that White & Case
had encouraged Cairns and Fairbairn to break the terms of
their partnership agreements and persuade clients to move
with them. It found the partners had breached their
partnership contract, illegally tried to persuade Deacons
clients to follow them and passed confidential information
to White & Case while at Deacons.
Unfortunately, the terms of the settlement are
The US firm put a statement out late last Friday claiming:
“Deacons and White & Case look forward to re-establishing
the amicable relationship they previously enjoyed.”
First, there’s a fair old amount of bridge building to be
Deacons once argued in court that Fairbairn and Cairns used
a lunch paid for by their old firm to lure key client
Standard Chartered to White & Case.
And White & Case appealed Judge Poon’s decision to strike
out much of the US firm’s defence claiming he was biased
because he had an old connection with a Deacons partner.
Thanks partly to the influence of US firms – where a client
service ethic means that even superstars can quit on Friday
and start at a rival law firm on a Monday – gardening leave
is a rare sight in the UK these days.
Even Tim Polglase, Clive Wells and Robin Harvey, the Norton
Rose acquisition finance quartet who famously defected to
Allen & Overy in 2002, only got two months in their
gardens, despite the fact that the firm could have held
them to six.
White & Case v Deacons was good entertainment, but let’s be
grateful that seven-year restrictive covenants would not be
enforced in the UK.