Focus: David Gold, Golden years

Herbert Smith stalwart David Gold says his retirement plans don’t involve golf or gardening instead he’s starting out with a DoJ-appointed role making sure BAE remains ethically sound

David Gold
David Gold

The whereabouts of former Herbert Smith senior ­partner David Gold was one of the great mysteries – or at least a very closely guarded secret – at the firm over the summer.

But following an extended ­handover period to his successor Jonathan Scott, and a couple of months of travelling that took him as far as Alaska, the Herbert Smith ­veteran of 37 years has revealed his hand.

Last week (, 31 August) Gold was revealed as the independent corporate monitor at BAE Systems. The appointment, made by the US Department of ­Justice (DoJ) in ­consultation with the defence and aerospace company, came after a ­settlement with the DoJ, drawn up in the aftermath of an investigation into contract payments. BAE was fined £250m after pleading guilty to breaching US regulations covering the export of arms.

The role will include the evaluation of practices put in place after Lord Woolf was appointed by the company to investigate its ethical conduct in 2007. The resultant report from the former Lord Chief Justice included 23 recommendations, which BAE claims have been implemented fully.

“One of my big jobs will be to see how much work’s been done to bring the report alive,” explains Gold, who adds that he will be keeping in touch with Woolf during the first phase of the three-year appointment.

BAE is a Herbert Smith client, but both parties insist that no conflict of interest will arise as a result of Gold’s new role. His initial task will be to pull together a team to carry out a review of company governance and procedures. The team he selects will need to be independent of the ­company but “fully understand how it operates”, as he puts it.

Gold does not envisage being joined by an army of lawyers in his new job, but he has already been ­contacted by a number of former ­colleagues and clients.

“The accountants have probably beaten the lawyers to it,” he jokes.

“I didn’t realise how many friends I had.”

Whoever makes up the team, one of its first and most important jobs will be to assess the true extent of its remit.

“It’s difficult to say precisely what [the job] will involve right now,” admits Gold. “First, I have to get on top of the company and understand its ­procedures and systems through and through. One of the early things [to do] is visit the DoJ and spend some time understanding the issues it wants me to speak on. It’s a strange position, as I’m appointed by the DoJ and report to it, but I’ll have an office at BAE and be paid by that company.”

BAE group general counsel Philip Bramwell, one of the ­figures behind Gold’s appointment, does not think Herbert Smith’s ex-senior partner is likely to unearth anything unsavoury.

Bramwell joined the company in 2007 and overhauled the legal department in the shadow of an abortive Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into its business ­dealings in Saudi Arabia.

Bramwell brought in Mark ­Serfozo as global compliance head in what he called at the time a “fundamental reset” of BAE’s legal function as the company attempted to wipe its slate clean.

“This monitorship [by Gold and his team] will be another step in that process,” Bramwell insists. “We see it as a useful independent review ­system. If he has recommendations that are useful, we’ll use them.”

For Gold himself the appointment is as much about fulfilling his desire to do something different after ­nearly four decades as a litigator. He admits that there were calls from some in the firm for him to return to full-time fee-earning.

“I made a decision that I wouldn’t stand again as senior partner and have been thinking for the past nine months about what to do next,” he relates. “I ­wasn’t sure it was right that a former senior partner should hang around when there’s a new ­management team in place.”

The BAE appointment, which will occupy him for up to five days a month, is part of what he hopes will be the start of a mixed post-Herbert Smith career when his time as a ­partner ­officially comes to an end next April.

During his time away from the City Gold took a Centre for Effective ­Dispute Resolution mediation course with the aim of picking up some ad hoc work.

“I’ve got a lot of experience of ­partnership-style disputes,” he explains. “What I can provide as a mediator is a practised view of what could happen. Hopefully I’ll get a few commissions.”

Meanwhile, before he leaves his old firm for good, he will position himself in the advocacy unit after several clients expressed an interest in having him get involved in high-level settlements, even if he would not be expected to handle the ­litigation aspect on his own.

“I don’t see myself working as a ­typical litigation lawyer,” adds Gold, explaining that his experience as a ­litigator, along with his mediation training, could be useful in a more general advocacy role. “It’s all part of problem-solving, and that’s something I do well and will continue to do.”

So, given the BAE role and his other plans, it looks as if Gold’s ­retirement will be in name only.

“I want to find a new business life with a lot of flexibility,” he explains. “I don’t have any ambitions to sit in my garden and I don’t play golf, so a ­portfolio life will suit me fine.”