Baker & McKenzie shakes up partner dismissal system

International firm Baker & McKenzie has revised its system of dismissals to make it simpler to shed unwanted partners.

The new procedure, unveiled at the firm's annual partners' meeting in Hong Kong last month, means lawyers can be dropped from the partnership by global ballot rather than waiting for the yearly gathering.

The majority vote required to see a partner out of the practice has also been lowered, although the firm will not disclose exact numbers.

Baker & McKenzie has faced controversy twice in the past 12 months.

Recently in the US an award of almost u5 million was made against it and former partner Martin Greenstein, after a US court decided he had sexually harassed a secretary.

Earlier this year, several partners in the firm's Sydney office resigned after the New South Wales Supreme Court gave a damning judgement on their activities as members of two horse racing syndicates.

London-based partner Tim Steadman says the changes had been discussed for a number of years and the meeting decided the new system would provide “long-term benefits” to the practice.

Steadman confirms “brief formal reports” on the Australian and US cases were delivered, and says the fact that the incidents occurred “enabled us to put in place some of these changes more easily than if we hadn't had such a full year”.

“Those incidents concentrated people's minds on how we conduct ourselves internally,” says Steadman.

“We've done two things. We've reduced the majority (needed to dismiss a partner) and we've provided a mechanism where the vote can be taken by a ballot and not just at a formal meeting.

“Dismissals seldom happen, but when they do we need to be able to act quickly and that has been hampered by the current rules.”