UK firms take first international steps

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) managed to clinch four convictions in the Blue Arrow trial over share ramping in February. The charges were of criminal conspiracy to mislead the stock market in the wake of the failed £837m Blue Arrow rights issue in 1987.

The guilty verdicts came as a surprise to seasoned fraud
trial-watchers, who interpreted Mr Justice McKinnon’s summing up as favouring the defence. It could not have come at a better time for the SFO, which had had to stomach
disappointment over the second and third Guinness trials.

But the SFO’s management of the prosecution was condemned in all quarters – including by Court of Appeal judges, who described the trial as a “costly disaster”. Their criticisms surprised lawyers by their intensity. One of the problems was the lack of focus by the prosecution, which was unable to pick a small number of core allegations: the trial lasted 17 months.

Mr Justice McKinnon’s reputation, however, was unscathed. While he was criticised for failing to cut down the case early enough, he was in fact following convention by trusting the prosecution’s judgment.

“The record, in all its immensity, shows that I have struggled to cut this case down,” said McKinnon. “The 50 days of preparatory hearing achieved a great deal in reducing the scope and complexity of this case.”

Later in 1992 Clifford Chance litigation partner George Staple became head of the SFO. (The Lawyer commented: “It must yet be one of the legal world’s little enigmas that he was plucked from the ranks to be head of the SFO.”)

In an interview with The Lawyer in December that year, Staple indicated that the SFO had learned from the Blue Arrow case. “One of the criticisms was that we had overloaded the indictment. That’s something we’re not going to do again.”

At the beginning of his term heading the SFO, Staple gave a speech at the London School of Economics calling for the introduction of plea-bargaining, greater pre-trial disclosure for the defence and management training for specialist fraud judges.

Blue Arrow had one unexpected side-effect, however: it highlighted the need to enhance the role of
in-house solicitors and compliance officers. But in retrospect it signalled the beginning of a shift away from criminal fraud and the SFO towards the regulators such as the Financial Services Authority.

That Eversheds merger – except it wasn’t, quite
Eversheds finally merged its six law firms to become one firm – but not yet with full financial integration. The new partnership agreement in April 1992 created a 205-partner practice with 1,628 staff – the second biggest firm in the UK after Clifford Chance.

The six firms were Alexander Tatham (Manchester), Daynes Hill & Perks (East Anglia), Evershed Wells & Hind
(Birmingham), Hepworth & Chadwick (Leeds), Ingledew Botterell (Newcastle) and Phillips and Buck (Cardiff).

On the studied indifference within the City to the move, The Lawyer commented: “The mild sense of ennui among the City clique is partly due to the fact that the aims of the joint venture have been known for four years. But it is also because many are still not convinced that it will in practice be anything more than a close network of individual firms. Nor do they believe that its aims to be a truly national firm with City clout can be realised.”

It would take Eversheds more than a decade and several more opportunistic London mergers to gain City credibility.

How not to make redundancies
Denton Hall, Berwin Leighton, DJ Freeman and McKenna & Co all issued redundancy notices to a total of more than 60 staff before Christmas.

The biggest number went from Dentons, with 29 redundancies planned – one salaried partner, five assistants and 23 support staff. Berwin Leighton made nine assistants and 17 support staff redundant. McKenna’s approach of couriering redundancy letters to the homes of staff was roundly criticised.

Trainee comes clean on huge overdraft
Trainee Solicitors’ Group chair John Balsdon put the issue of student debt, grants and loans at the top of the agenda for his term.

Balsdon told The Lawyer that he himself was £11,000 in debt. At the time he was a trainee at West End firm Brecher & Co, but later moved to Clifford Chance, where he became a projects partner. He is currently a partner at Herbert Smith in Moscow.

Telling it like it is
Bill Tudor John becomes managing partner at Allen & Overy and displayed immediate impatience with lawyers who simply expected work to land on their desks.

“I had to learn how to hustle a bit,” he said. “I had to learn how to go out and get business. Numbers of people have been brought up in an age where work just rolled in through the door, you didn’t have to go out and get it.”

A short-lived merger
Manchester-based Pannone & Partners merged with London firm Pritchard Englefield & Tobin – only to demerge 18 months later.

Employment lawyers unite
Janey Gayner, an employment law partner at Simmons & Simmons, launched the Employment Lawyers Association in December. She would later become senior partner of her firm.

David Harrel,
SJ Berwin

Litigation partner David Harrel had to steady the ship when it emerged that the senior partner of his firm SJ Berwin, Christopher Haan, along with partners Peter Simpson and Julian Lew, were resigning to join multinational firm Coudert.

It was a time of crisis for SJ Berwin, which was only 10 years old and very much the City upstart, because Haan’s team represented the first major departures in that time.

However, Harrel’s trademark unflappability came to be treasured by his colleagues; he reigned as senior partner until 2005 and presided over organic growth in the UK, as well as German, French and Spanish mergers.

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