News roundup

Lawyer Awards 2001
Law Firm of the Year: Macfarlanes
Management Team of the Year: Osborne Clarke
Global Law firm of the Year: White & Case
Lifetime Achievement Award: Sir Sydney Kentridge QC
Partner of the Year: Peter Charlton, Clifford Chance
Niche Firm of the Year: Memery Crystal

Hammond Suddards everywhere
One might have thought that a newly merged firm would have opted for a consolidation period. Not Hammond Suddards Edge – it expanded dramatically, both domestically and internationally, taking over niche firm Wilde & Partners and sports boutique Townleys in the UK, and securing French and Italian partners on the Continent in Hausmann & Associés and Rossotto e Associati respectively.

The firm also unveiled plans to open its first office outside Europe – it set up an office in Hong Kong, which will operate under the name Li Brandt & Co.

Buchanans ditches PFI team in strategy U-turn
US firm Buchanan Ingersoll accepted the failure of its high-profile London projects and PFI practice by closing it just 18 months after its launch. The decision meant the departure of the office’s managing partner Barry Francis and two other partners. Instead, the London office is refocusing on its consultancy practice.

Eversheds culls equity partners to hike profits
The Lawyer revealed that Eversheds was slicing around 10 per cent of its equity partners to boost profitability (15 January). This month, it revealed that the firm will vote on a new system of profit sharing, which will move away from lockstep. The setup will make the merit-based element in excess of 30 per cent of the balance after fixed-share and bonus elements have been allocated (10 December).

The OFT report
In March, the Office of Fair Trading released its long-awaited report into the professions, recommending relaxation of multidisciplinary partnership restrictions, abolition of solicitors’ professional privilege and a review of QC status. The Bar Council predictably slammed the report for reducing choice, while the Law Society welcomed the reforms. The Director-General of Fair Trading John Vickers said: “We’ll take action after the grace period, or earlier if there’s no evidence of willingness to make changes.”

“Vanni Treves is clearly worried about making himself and Macfarlanes sound holier than thou. ‘It’s very difficult to explain why I took the [Equitable Life] job without angel choirs bursting into song.”
The Fiona Callister Interview, 12 March

The £8bn industry
UK lawyers were great at making money. The Lawyer 100 showed that the value of the sector kept on growing. In 1998/1999, it was £5.02bn; for 1999/2000 £6.038bn; in 2000/2001 it was £7.695bn. Add to that the £254.9m made by the top 10 US firms in the City, and the £406m made by the top 30 chambers, and you had a sector worth £8.356bn (The Lawyer 100, 3 September).

Money laundering puts City firms on defensive
Five top 30 firms called in Deloitte & Touche’s anti-fraud team due to mounting concerns that money launderers were targeting their lawyers (21 May).

Sinclair sued for millions
Sinclair Roche & Temperley was sued for up to £14m for breach of contract and negligence by former client Somatra. It has counterclaimed that the client owes £577,000 in unpaid fees and disbursements (2 July).

Russell Jones sued by own lawyers over new bonus scheme
Russell Jones & Walker was being sued in August by the GMB over the treatment of some employees. The action was particularly embarrassing because of the firm’s historical status as a trade union firm. The claim was for an unlawful deduction of wages (20 August).

Ashursts ally in league with Milosevic
Ashurst Morris Crisp’s Italian e-alliance firm Studio Legale Sutti agreed a merger with the Serbian firm that is heavily involved in the defence of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes (20 August).

M&A slump forces rejig at Linklaters
Linklaters seconded a group of corporate assistants into its regulatory departments as it battled the M&A slowdown. Four transactional law-yers moved to the financial services regulation and complex derivatives groups, with plans to move more. The firm was believed to be the first magic circle firm to act against disappearing workloads in its corporate group (10 September).

Skadden secretary steals $1m
A secretary from the Washington DC office of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom pleaded guilty to stealing $1m (£693,000) from a partner at the firm. Farnaz Farzaneh stole from partner Lynn Coleman, who had headed the firm’s energy practice for 20 years, while working for her (1 October).

Firms lose confidence
The Lawyer’s latest business confidence survey, conducted by Wheeler Associates, revealed that only 35 per cent of managing partners surveyed expected their firms’ turnover to grow over the next six months. This compared with 66 per cent in the previous quarter. Average fee growth across all firms surveyed was predicted to be 3 per cent in the next six months (8 October).

Latvian government strife over ‘shocking’ Clifford Chance bill
Latvia’s prime minister was under attack from his opposition over the size of Clifford Chance’s fees. Andris Berzins insisted that he would not allow the argument
to destabilise the government. The bill, reported by the local press to be $9m (£6.24m) – although this was probably higher than reality – was for arbitration work against Tilts Communications. It was described as “shocking” and “inappropriately large” by the opposition (29 October).

“September 11: ‘I’ve been touched by how many people around the City have just called up to express concern and offer help. We’ve had two major City law firms on the phone offering resources”
Phil Fletcher, managing partner, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, London

Swepstones collapses after tribunal rulings
Swepstone Walsh, the niche media litigation firm and one-time main adviser to Mirror Group Newspapers, ceased trading. The firm shut its doors after running into serious trouble with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last month. A former partner has been struck off the roll and one current and one former partner were fined £5,000 each for breach of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules. The firm had also seen its insurance premium pushed to unmanageably high levels (19 November).

Norton Rose sued for £1m over Dome
Norton Rose was sued for more than £1m by the New Millennium Experience Company on the grounds that it gave bad advice, forcing the Millennium Dome operator to pay compensation to a contractor (3 December).

Revelations in The Lawyer create political storm in Manchester
Manchester City Council was under attack from the local leader of the Liberal Democrats for its decision to use Slaughter and May as its legal adviser.

Following a report in The Lawyer (12 February), councillor Simon Ashley sent an email to the city solicitor requesting details on why the work was not tendered, the cost of using Slaughters and whether Best Value, a Local Government Act 1999 initiative, was achieved (19 February).

Morgan Cole dumps lockstep
Morgan Cole was in the throes of its first review of individual partner performance as it moved into a purely merit-based compensation system (8 April).