White & Case partners in the firing line over Deacons row

As revealed in The Lawyer (8 July), the firm became embroiled in a court battle over a highly-rated insolvency team that it recruited from the Hong Kong office of Deacons. Deacons filed a suit alleging that White & Case's approach to four of its partners breached a non-recruitment clause from a 1999 merger agreement.
Deacons has now filed an amended statement of claim, which has added the two former Deacons partners as defendants. The focus of the case has now shifted away from White & Case and the firm's alleged breach of a non-solicitation agreement.
The case was due to be heard last Monday (9 September) but, according to Nick Hunsworth of Johnson Stokes & Master, which is representing White & Case, “the trial has been put off on the basis that the original directions for a speedy trial were predicated on a non-solicitation clause”.
The two partners being sued are star insolvency partners Mark Fairburn and Edward Cairns. Hunsworth said: “Broadly, [Deacons] is alleging that the process by which the partners left Deacons constitutes a breach of fiduciary duties by disclosing information.”
According to Hunsworth, the presiding judge in the case indicated that White & Case had now taken a back seat in the proceedings. Fairburn and Cairns are represented by Herbert Smith partner Nigel Francis.
“We're awaiting judgment from the courts on the Cowley and Yip v Donald Koo case,” said Hunsworth.
This case involves similar questions of law to the White & Case trial, and Deacons' next move may be predicated on the outcome of that case. Both cases potentially have huge consequences for Hong Kong employment law.
Hunsworth added: “The issue of fiduciary duty relates to all moves. In these days of increased lawyer mobility, that is quite germane.”