A&O to launch new regime on conflicts

Magic circle firm to invest millions installing 24-hour global policing system

Allen & Overy

(A&O) is set to launch a sophisticated automated global conflicts checking policy in which it has invested millions.

The firm has been criticised by other law firms for its controversial decisions on conflicts, including a dual role on the Safeway bid and a double instruction on the hostile battle for Cordiant.

Conflicts partner Mark Welling defended the firm’s stance. He said: “None of the situations that have been reported are ones that have slipped through the net.” However, Welling and other A&O partners have told The Lawyer that the time and money invested in the new conflicts system are indicative of the importance that the firm attaches to the issue.

From November, A&O will roll out a global conflicts clearing system that has been under construction for 18 months and is being piloted in several A&O offices.

The system forms part of ‘Project Omnia’, a massive IT initiative that will create an online virtual filing system. Clifford Chance implemented a similar system in 2000, which initially experienced major teething problems as conflicts took weeks to be cleared.

A&O analysts in three time zones will implement the initial checks, and will pass on the more contentious issues to a group of partners consisting of Welling, Heather McMullen, David Morley and Guy Beringer.

Welling said: “The system enables us to develop, then implement and police, a system of the highest standards in all our jurisdictions.”

Speaking about A&O’s general policy on conflicts for the first time since the controversy over the TXU insolvency, Welling strongly defended his firm.

“You need to get well beyond simply saying there’s a conflict merely because you just act for two clients,” he said. “We’re firm advocates of reform because we want clear provisions,” he said. “Even the Law Society acknowledges its rules are difficult to apply in a commercial context.”