One and a half years after RollOnFriday broke the story, the Solicitors Regulation Authority is prosecuting Gary Senior, the former London Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie, for "attempting to embrace and kiss" a woman in 2012 against her will, and then sweeping it under the carpet.
It is also prosecuting Martin Blackburn, Baker McKenzie's ex-head of HR, and Tom Cassels, Baker McKenzie's former head of litigation, for participating in the flawed investigation, along with the firm itself.
Senior was not named in RollOnFriday's original report at the request of his alleged victim, who worked at the firm and feared people might be able to identify her by 'jigsawing' the information together if Senior's identity was revealed. The SRA's decision to prosecute means his name is now in the public domain.
The SRA has alleged that Senior, who left Baker McKenzie in 2018 and is now a consultant at a recruitment agency, behaved "in an inappropriate manner" with 'Person A' while he was in a position of authority over her as London Managing Partner. He told her he was "attracted to her" and "attempted to embrace and kiss her", then "persisted, despite her protestations".
Instead of coming clean at the time, Bakers packed her off with a cash payment after she agreed to enter an NDA, and promoted Senior to the firm's Global Executive Committee.
As a result, the SRA is prosecuting Senior for sweeping the incident under the carpet. Senior, it says, "improperly sought" to use his position within Bakers to influence the investigation into his conduct. That included preventing relevant information from being shared within the firm about her complaint, and influencing the outcome of the investigation, and not reporting the matter to the SRA.
Bakers is being prosecuted for allowing all this to happen. So is Cassels, who is now a dispute resolution partner at Linklaters, and Blackburn, who is the UK People Director at KPMG.
To the wider benefit of the profession, if not Gary Senior, RollOnFriday blew this open.
This would all have come to light years earlier, but for a sustained effort by the firm to cover it up. In 2016, two years before enough other sources approached RollOnFriday to enable the story to be published, RollOnFriday asked Baker McKenzie about a line in the firm’s accounts which an insider said comprised the pay-off to Person A. Baker McKenzie insisted that it was down to restructuring costs in various departments. But that was a lie. It later transpired that the person who responded to Bakers' press team (which had no knowledge of the 2012 incident) about the query was, according to inside sources...Gary Senior.
Senior disputes that account, and told RollOnFriday via a spokesman that he maintains it was Jonathan Westwell, the firm's general counsel and partnership secretary, who spoke to the press team.
Anatomy of a cover-up. RollOnFriday, 2016:
Baker McKenzie response:
In a statement addressing the prosecution, Bakers pointed to its belated internal review, which it said it had shared with the SRA.
"We fully accept there were significant shortcomings in the procedures that we followed in 2012 and subsequently", said a spokesman for Baker McKenzie. "This is something which we very much regret. We could and should have done much better in handling the issue at the time and subsequently, and we have since introduced and reinforced robust processes to ensure these shortcomings can never be repeated".
He said the firm had enhanced its internal due diligence processes, "including around the way we vet candidates for promotion in the Firm", and had "taken steps to encourage a 'speak up ' culture".
Linklaters is standing by Cassels. A spokesman said he “has the firm’s full support". He added, "Tom is a hugely respected and distinguished lawyer who, since joining us in 2016, has become a trusted and valued partner. He has a long track record of championing diversity initiatives, including our own internal ‘He for She’ campaign and as a mentor for the 30% Club”.
Senior denied the claims and said he will defend against the allegations. His spokesman said that Senior "strongly maintains that he had no input into the form of the sanctions or process" undertaken by the firm.