Review of the year 2003: A&O conflicts

2003 was the year of conflicts for Allen & Overy (A&O). Back in February, The Lawyer broke the embarrassing news that A&O and Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft were acting for both the creditors and one of the joint administrators in the £4bn TXU Europe administration.

Not surprisingly, other creditors started to bristle at what they perceived as a conflict of interest. In particular, Ernst & Young (E&Y) disapproved deeply of conflicts within the firms. So miffed was E&Y that it shoehorned both firms into drawing up and signing a unique ‘lawyers’ protocol’, outlining the strength of their information barriers. But while A&O hoped that the Commercial Court would rubberstamp the protocol, A&O’s own client, TXU creditor Barking, along with Drax and another of TXU’s energy creditors International Power, rejected the protocol at the eleventh hour.

Then in May came the drama over A&O’s conflicting roles in the Safeway bid, when ABN Amro unceremoniously ditched the firm as its adviser in the battle after the investment bank discovered that it was advising two opposing parties. Morrisons pressured ABN Amro into replacing A&O with Denton Wilde Sapte after it learnt that the firm was advising Wal-Mart’s financial adviser.

In June, the situation became almost comical when, as predicted by The Lawyer, A&O lawyers sat on both sides of the table for the acquisition of Cordiant by WPP. One source told The Lawyer senior reporter Naomi Rovnick: “Some of the US banks did raise their eyebrows. You’d never find this situation occurring in a US firm. They wouldn’t even think of trying.”

Conflicts partner Mark Welling defended the firm’s many roles in the TXU, Safeway and Cordiant deals, saying: “None of the situations that have been reported are ones that have slipped through the net.” Three months later, The Lawyer revealed that the firm had announced a new conflicts checking policy.