Simmons & Simmons has been dumped by trophy client Gallaher on the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) investigation into price-rigging in the tobacco market, The Lawyer can reveal.
It is very rare for companies to change law firms part-way through a major competition investigation because of the expense and inconvenience, so it is a serious blow for the City firm.
The OFT sent out requests for information to Imperial Tobacco, Gallaher and British American Tobacco last autumn as part of an investigation into alleged price-rigging between the companies and retailers. Gallaher then instructed its usual competition law firm Simmons.
It is understood the City firm was ditched in late March after what sources close to Gallaher describe as key strategic differences on how to respond to the OFT case.
In April, the tobacco giant turned to Slaughter and May, Simmons’ major rival for Gallaher’s corporate and competition work.
Gallaher reviewed its panel in December 2002, forcing Simmons to share the main advisory role with Slaughters and giving a place to Stevens & Bolton, where Simmons head of corporate Ken Woffenden subsequently moved.
Gallaher says the City firm will still receive work. A Simmons spokesperson said: “Our relationship continues in this country and internationally.”
Slaughters declined to comment.