freeths tribunal

Taplin, Tempest and Flanagan will delight any audience with talks encompassing a range of challenging themes.


The chairman of national firm Freeths is leaving the firm in the wake of an Employment Tribunal decision which demolished his credibility as a witness.

Colin Flanagan was criticised by the tribunal for his conduct dealing with Mike Taplin, a high-performing partner, when the lawyer began showing signs of a mental health crisis and then told an absolute stinker of a joke at a real estate conference.

In the course of ruling that Freeths had discriminated against Taplin, the tribunal heard how Flanagan justified taking charge of handling Taplin because Freeths operated its business to "minimise bureaucracy" and supported people in a "less formal" and "very human way".

Freeths' chilled approach to personnel matters may require revision after Flanagan admitted he did not initially consider that Taplin had a serious mental health condition because Freeths staff were "often" struggling with stress.

The tribunal said it was "remarkable" that Flanagan dealt with the issue by himself even though Freeths had an HR team and a specialist employment law department at its disposal. 

As part of his amateur hour HR work, Flanagan sent Taplin an "insensitive" email which made heavy use of sporting analogies.

Telling Taplin to “recognise that you are entering the final phase of your career”, Flanagan wrote, "You have lost a yard of pace and can no longer expect to bang in 30 goals per season. You must drop back into midfield and don’t try to cover every blade of grass of play every game. You can stay on as 'club captain' but leave the captaincy on the field to someone else (i.e. Janet)".

Flanagan added that everyone had been much happier since Taplin had signed off sick. "There is also a different atmosphere in the office and again, this is a positive change. It is important that you work with Janet to preserve this. It involves you avoiding the frenetic and pressurised way of working which you are used to", he wrote.

Later Flanagan visited Taplin's home, and the Tribunal was damning of his failure to enquire about the medication which Taplin volunteered he was taking. Flanagan claimed it was because "it is not for the firm to delve into medication – it is a personal matter", but the Tribunal said his explanations "quite simply make no sense...they are not convincing, they are not consistent and not credible".

Flanagan also told the partner to be "more jovial around the office", said Taplin, which the Tribunal described as "irresponsible and reckless".

"To give an instruction to someone with a depressive mental health condition who is taking medication (you have failed to enquire into the effects of), to in effect ‘cheer up’ or at least to appear to be more positive, is grossly insensitive", it said.

In the midst of his mental health crisis in 2018, Taplin spoke at a real estate conference where he told a joke about a team from Freeths carrying out a site visit in a jungle and meeting cannibals carrying spears, with a punchline comparing the size of his penis and two other partners' penises to the cannibals'.

At the same conference another Freeths partner, Ian Tempest, showed a slide of 'forthcoming attractions' which featured the face of a woman who was joining the team next to a picture of Pamela Anderson in a swimsuit, and followed it with a picture of himself bearing the job title ‘National Head of Porn'.

After the conference a third partner, Darren Williamson, emailed Flanagan and other partners reporting that "All in all I think it was a success and the presentations gave it an informal 'family' feel which I thought was spot on", before emailing the national real estate team to inform them that that the presentations "mirrored our approach to collegiality perfectly".

When complaints began arriving which suggested the event hadn't been quite as family friendly as Williamson had portrayed, Flanagan convened a disciplinary group which resulted in a decision to suspend Taplin, but not Tempest. 

Flanagan did not disclose to the group that Taplin had been suffering mental health issues, and the Tribunal said Flanagan's excuse that it was because he didn't appreciate that Taplin's mental health was a relevant factor was "utterly unconvincing". 

Stating that Flanagan was not a credible witness, the Tribunal concluded that Flanagan had decided that an easy solution to the problem of managing Taplin's ill health was to engineer his suspension, "removing him from the workplace and potentially also forcing him into an exit situation or dismissal". 

Taplin resigned, and won his claim against the firm earlier this year.

Freeths confirmed to RollOnFriday that Flanagan and Chief Executive Peter Smith were retiring from the firm, but said that Freeths "had a two year succession plan in place" and that "there was a scheduled handover period to allow plenty of time for the new management team to adjust to their new responsibilities". 

"Now we are seeing working life start to return to some normality, and with the management team successfully embedded in their roles, Colin has taken the decision to step down at the end of this month", it said.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Anonymous 28 May 21 09:06

I interpret “not a credible witness” as somebody from a law firm not being truthful or put another way, telling lies.  How damning is that? 

ShootyOriginal 28 May 21 09:20

... That's really quite something to read.

If it was a script from something like The Thick Of It, you'd dismiss it as being too unrealistic.

Wow.

Anonymous 28 May 21 09:34

Teddy Sheringham never had a yard of pace to lose and banged in top flight goals well into his 40s.  Bad footballing analogy used.

Ex-Freeths (thank goodness) 28 May 21 09:45

Yet Tempest is staying? 
 

Freeths has a 1970s style culture, which is why nobody challenged the Baywatch presentation in person. Whilst Tempest remains, the culture remains. 

“THAT” bus trip to MIPIM 28 May 21 09:58

I’ve a funny feeling there will be more stories in the pipeline about Freeths in the coming months... 
 

 

Anonymous 28 May 21 09:58

I think that the problem Flanagan has had here is one that a lot of lawyers often struggle with.

Specifically, he hasn't recognised that lawyering is a game of two halves, you can't just solve problems by parking the bus in front of them, and you've got to score goals to win games. 

Once you think about the problem that way it all becomes very clear.

So by all means he should have got a bit of stick for this, but the red card just feels over the top.

Anonymous 28 May 21 10:03

Not sure the employment partner came out of it well either given the criticisms on disclosure and redactions 

Anonymous 28 May 21 10:29

The warning signs have been there for years. For example, two or three of my fellow trainees were in relationships with their supervisors. 
 

At the end of the day, those who stay in that kind of firm become used to turning a blind eye.  

Anonymous 28 May 21 10:39

"All in all I think it was a success and the presentations gave it an informal 'family' feel which I thought was spot on" #accidentalpartridge

Anon 28 May 21 11:10

The reality is that this approach probably happens a lot in many firms - problems are dealt with by pushing out, paying off and getting rid and treating people quite badly  in the process - with the expectation that the dirty laundry will never be brought into public because of the deterrent factor of being seen to sue your employer or your issues as an individual coming into the open.  

Thus firms take the view they can essentially get away with this type of handling of serious situations because their approach won’t get scrutinised by the court.   

Except every now and then an individual, particularly those who are retiring, and have nothing to lose, fight back.  This only begs the question what the hell were Freeths thinking in defending this one all the way to trial?   Once it was clear they would have an exposure, and that must have been clear on the facts pretty early one, why on Earth fight it to trial?  You settle it and prevent this horror show from coming to light that has done catastrophic damage to the brand and cost the job of the chairman. 

anon 28 May 21 11:34

My first law job was at Freeths.  one of the partners was widely known for basically wanting his pick of the female trainees.  He dumped his associate for the next Trainees whilst I was there (all of whom must have been half his age)

He came sidling up to me once to find out where I was from (I was temping). I explained I was at Nottingham Uni.  His answer "What, Trent?".  My pointed answer (after a silent staring at him for a few seconds, "no, the other one".

Unsurprisingly I did not end up with a training contract from Freeths, probably the highlight of my law career, that.

 

Disillusioned Solicitor 28 May 21 11:56

I am ex-Freeths and know their culture but I would say it is no different from other Top 50 firms I have experienced.

I am not sure how our profession can continue to advise clients about discrimination when bias is endemic and there is a laissez-faire attitude.

The SRA is impotent. Be under no illusions as to protection. It is left to the individual to fight the multi-million pound law firms and their insurers. I would like to know of the names of insurers that are picking up the tab and have their names published so that there is transparency and people are informed when making their purchasing decisions about insurance.

Anon 28 May 21 12:12

#accidentalpartridge, love it. Quite a u turn!

People are only just starting to pick over the details of this, but there's a lot of questions to answer. Not least, why not settle, did they think they'd done nothing wrong, or that it would turn out any better than it did? Also some serious questions on credibility and handling of the ET procedure!

I used to be at freeths and it seems fairly unlikely that Flanagan was the lone gunman from the knoll, but seeing as how most of the new management team was involved in the suspension, it makes sense for him carry the can and bring forward his retirement.

Anonymous 28 May 21 12:29

"one of the partners was widely known for basically wanting his pick of the female trainees.  He dumped his associate for the next Trainees whilst I was there (all of whom must have been half his age)"

What a baller.

Managing it once is commendable. But being able to repeat the trick each year with every fresh intake is next level swordsmanship.

Anonymous 28 May 21 12:56

@11.34 - if it was all consensual then its none of our business. And you shouldn't criticise the trainees for dating men more than twice their age. They're grown women, so its up to them.

Anonymous 28 May 21 13:44

Well, to tell the tale of the antics on the omnibus: the Bus Stuffed with Barristers* had a jolly good time on the way to MIPIM (lots of good natured hanky panky was had by all) and by the time they got there had cleared Lord Lester of all wrongdoing.

 

*'BSB' for short

Anonymous 28 May 21 13:45

Anon 12:56 - women a few years out of university having relationships in their final seat with old men who decide whether they get NQ jobs. 

I’ll be honest, it looked a bit grubby to me. 

Anonymous 28 May 21 13:57

@12:56 - if there's a position of power or supervision involved, then we all know a higher standard should be applied. Young lawyers have often worked so hard to get into the profession that they don't always see what's in their best interests.

Most firms require partners to disclose relationships with staff, so that there is  a grown-up discussion about how to work together and be in a relationship.

Anonymous 28 May 21 14:12

I know it doesn’t seem possible if you read the judgment but there are lawyers at Freeths who are professional and well meaning. 
 

They need to remove the clique of partners who have dragged Freeths down. It’s not just Tempest but he’s obviously a symbol of how the firm is run. 
 

One of the saddest parts of that judgment is James Hart’s email. He knows what he is seeing is wrong, but even as an equity partner he doesn’t feel he can stand up to them. 

Ex-Freeths associate 28 May 21 14:33

The worst thing about this is that with these two leaving, no doubt some of the worst behaved Freeths partners will advance further. Those who know know who I’m talking about.

Anonymous 28 May 21 14:42

I've had fun with various paralegals and it's great. They tend to move on after a year. It's the trainees and associates to avoid as they linger like a bad smell.

anon 28 May 21 14:45

responding to my own anon @11.34 post.  I got moderated evidently, the poor grammar is ROF's editing, not my post lol...

anon 28 May 21 14:48

@12.56.  Yes, sure.  It's entirely consensual and acceptable behaviour for a young, impressionable, naive  trainee to enter into a relationship with a senior partner. Totally above board and ok.  Definitely nothing wrong with that scenario at all. 

Anonymous 28 May 21 15:10

Amateurs

I once worked with a bloke (in every sense) who somehow had Ugandan discussions with 5 colleagues in under 2 years without fall out.
 

There were 50 staff on that office.

 

 

 

Van Gogh 28 May 21 15:30

Credit to the Roll on Friday graphics department. This may well be your finest work yet. 

Anonymous 28 May 21 15:40

Who are the new management team? 
 

My guess is that they will be very people who turned a blind eye to all the grubby goings on year after year. Why would anyone believe they will fix the culture now, when they didn’t before? 

Unbelievable..... 28 May 21 15:59

I just don’t recognise this as Freeths, every lawyer I have met from there are just good eggs & really sensible to be on the other side of...... wfh will nip the shenanigans in the bud referred to above no doubt. Paul Gilroy QC did a good job..... back of the net you would say ⚽️

Anon 28 May 21 16:05

Colin is leaving but what about the other bad apples?!

A HR Director who’s fit for an Office Manager. No offence but with 25+ yrs in HR, you would expect more and she simply doesn’t have what the firm needs.

Johnathan Humbleton, aka the daredevil, described on Freeths website as a “ high-quality commercial specialist who display strong people skills in difficult circumstances “ Well, he’s definitely highly skilled in editing information. How could anyone with integrity do that, and against a colleague. That’s shocking to hear!

Congratulations to the new chairman on his new job, hopefully he’ll do better job than his successor.

Anonymous 28 May 21 17:20

Fundamentally having an accountant as a Chairman doesn't work.

Everyone knew he was only there to increase the numbers. He didn't have the power (or willingness) to address deep rooted problems.  Ian Payne did that for a few years, but when he took a step back things started to fall apart.

Colin’s Leaving Do 28 May 21 17:49

Tempo is getting tickets for Roy Chubby Brown at Hyson Green Men’s Club. Who’s in? 
 

 

Anonymous 28 May 21 19:06

@13.45 - as long as they were happy with it, if it was all consensual and nobody benefitted unfairly then it doesn’t matter how it looked to you.

Anonymous 28 May 21 19:15

@13.57 - there is a mutual position of power, indeed all walks of life and most relationships involve positions of power of some sort, that's often the attraction. Consenting adults are able to decide what's in their own best interests, they don't need self appointed moral guardians with ulterior motives to do so.

I think HR are the last people most lawyers would disclose relationships to!

Freeths not credible chiefs 28 May 21 20:05

The whole management board has brought the firm into disrepute.  Numerous witness described as not credible, the redaction or worse still the concealment of obviously disclosable documents.

A firm which cannot recognise when it’s own case is a mess and will lead to lasting reputational damage.

A total and utter shit show.  
 

Note to myself, avoid these jokers.  

Anonymous 28 May 21 20:23

@14.48 - its certainly entirely consensual, no doubt about that. Given this, its not up to us if its acceptable. Its not our business and we shouldn't be jealous.

Lydia 28 May 21 21:25

I read the whole of this the other week. The firm bent over backwards to accommodate the man whose mental health and got worse and worse. In a sense the action to take from the case is do not put up with these issues for ages and ages or the firm's position gets worse and worse. Get the person paid off quickly and early on before the firm and colleagues are damaged.  He was back work and then not and then long periods off to get better, it dragged on for ages in no one's best interests.

Anonymous 28 May 21 21:30

@19:15 - fundamentally disagree, and I think your view is out of keeping with modern practices.

That said, agree to disagree, and might I suggest a partnership position at freeths would be a good fit ;-)

Anonymous 28 May 21 21:42

Came up against Freeths once. Client massively liable. Just begged about how impecunious their client was. Then paid majority of claim. 

Anonymous 28 May 21 22:42

Three messages of support for final seat trainees sleeping with their supervisors posted on or around 8pm Friday... 

 

Anonymous 28 May 21 22:55

@16.19 - and that's just the bloke and blokess that everyone found out about. It happens in offices. Its a fact of life.

Anonymous 28 May 21 23:23

So will Flanagan end up joining Browne Jacobson like everyone else who leaves Freeths? 

Embarrassing 29 May 21 07:34

Flanagan seems to be totally out of his depth.  I cringed reading his dreadful football analogy but where were the HR and employment departments when all of this was going on?

Perhaps Freeths don’t have the skills to manage issues like this?  I’d certainly think twice about using them to advise me on employment related matters.  

Quick, do it whilst nobody’s looking 29 May 21 07:57

Freeths are supporting Macmillan this year after having supported Mind last year whilst the Taplin case was being fought without any thought or care for his mental health issues.  Hypocrisy at its highest but they gambled that in-house legal counsel would fail to scratch the surface and the hypocrisy would go un-noticed.  Whoops, too late - we’ve all seen it thanks to RoF.  

One can only speculate as to what Flanaganisms will be rolled out this year when dealing with those suffering from the curse of cancer.  Perhaps he can breath new life into his motivational “lost a yard of pace” speech? 
 

 

 

 

 

Anonymous 29 May 21 08:10

@21.30 - not so much a view as a reflection on reality, both on power dynamics and people's trust of HR. Applies everywhere, not just at Freeths.

Agree its not fashionable to say this though, and instead the current approach is to pretend power only works one way.

 

Anonymous 29 May 21 09:50

So essentially Freeths real estate team try to outdo each other with inappropriate presentations each year.  
 

Freeths only have a problem with this when someone they want to get rid of joins in...

Anonymous 29 May 21 10:16

I imagine student barristers on a bus trip would be great fun. 
 

Now imagine their Dads trying to create the same atmosphere for a 16 hour bus drive from Sneinton to Cannes with dancers. Like a Saga bus trip but seedier. 

Anonymous 29 May 21 10:19

28th @ 22.42 - actually there were no 'messages of support for final seat trainees sleeping with their supervisors', but let's not let reality get in thd way of a good dose of puritanism.

There were messages supporting the right for people to enter into consensual relationships, but whether from trainees, supervisors, or anyone else, who knows, and it doesn't matter.

Oh dear 29 May 21 11:14

Lydia - you reached a conclusion the Tribunal didn’t, but then they only sat through weeks of evidence and argument, and you’ve skimmed the legal press, so to be fair you’re probably right.  

Ex employee 29 May 21 18:19

Have read the tribunal. “Mr Flanagan’s evidence was not credible. We found his evidence about the reasons for and his level of involvement in the FSC to be unreliable and we likewise did not consider the evidence of the other members of the FSC to be reliable when questioned over Mr Flanagan’s involvement.”  I’m about ex employee and I’ve seen first hand how partners, ESPECIALLY in real estate are allowed to behave around women. Bye Colin. 

⬆️ 30 May 21 07:57

• Tempest’s position is untenable 

• Williamson’s position is untenable

 

You just can’t behave like that in a modern firm. 

Anonymous 30 May 21 08:14

Mind don't provide much help for people with mental health problems at work. They talk a good game but don't do much to support people who do speak up.

Anonymous 30 May 21 08:18

It’s not puritanical to think there’s something wrong with sex being part of the NQ job application process - it’s normal. 
 

If someone has sex in a job interview you would immediately wonder whether the right person had been picked and question the interviewer’s appropriateness for the role.
 

Consistent with this, imagine the seedy partner leaning over the trainee and saying “consenting adults are able to decide what's in their own best interests”...

To her the “NQ job” may be her understanding of “best interests”.   To him, it’s her going along with it and not telling his wife. 

Anonymous 30 May 21 23:16

@10.16 - why do you imagine student barristers would be fun, but not their dads?

Wow. 30 May 21 23:57

I’m a current employee and have seen first hand how poor HR is. I wouldn’t never report anything to them as it’s clear: partners, especially male, do whatever they like. The tone of a firm comes from senior management. And this tone has now gone public. You reap what you sow. 

Anonymous 31 May 21 12:35

What behaviour have you seen partners in real estate and other areas engage in, ex-employee?

Anonymous 31 May 21 19:53

All real estate staff at Freeths should be required to attend training on how to work with women and ethnic minorities. 
 

Freeths should address the cultural problems by having an email where staff and former staff can report misdemeanours. 

 

Ian Tempest cannot work at Freeths any longer. 

Employment lawyer oh the shame 31 May 21 23:20

Oh Lordy. When the respondent is a law firm and their lawyer redacts stuff and omits disclosure documents. Way to go Potter ! 

💭 Just wondering.... 01 June 21 10:15

Do Freeths have any partners who are:

• openly gay?

• black?

• willing to speak up when something is wrong?

 

If not, was their career path blocked? 

Anonymous 02 June 21 09:59

30th @ 8.18 - it is puritanical not to think sex is normal and to tell other people who they can and can't have sex with.

Who had sex during a job interview?

Consistent with this, imagine the seedy trainee leaning over the partner and saying “consenting adults are able to decide what's in their own best interests”...

To her, it’s him going along with it and her sleeping with someone's husband.

Anonymous 02 June 21 17:12

What did you see first hand, Wow? What did you see the male and female partners do?

Former Freeths Staff Member 02 June 21 18:15

The girlfriend of one of the partners (a fellow trainee) told me I didn’t have an NQ job two days before HR. 
 

Looking back the trainees who she got on with were retained. Those she didn’t, weren’t.
 

Furthermore, she clearly had access to more information than other trainees competing for a job.
 

Maybe all this was pure coincidence. A bit like Flanagan retiring weeks after a judge hammered the culture and professionalism of Freeths. 

Anonymous 02 June 21 18:17

Roll on Friday has done Freeths a massive favour by reporting this. 
 

It is forcing Freeths to have the conversations it should have had 15 years ago. 

Freeth Cartwright employee 02 June 21 20:36

Years ago, when I was at Freeth Cartwright, one trainee told her friend that she had got her training contract without interview because her father was a major real estate client. 

If she was telling the truth then Colin Flanagan is a disgrace. 

Christmas comes early 02 June 21 20:48

Right lads culture.  Just what I’m looking for.  First sniff of a job and I’m going for it.  Hopefully there will be something going in top lad Tempo’s team.  
I’ve got a few dirty jokes up my sleeve for the interview.  A man walks into a bar......

R Smythe 02 June 21 21:00

I’m really shocked to read most of these comments. I’ve dealt with Freeths for almost 30 years and have found them to be one of the most honourable firms I deal with. Colin Flanagan was a man against who I measured other’s integrity. I don’t think it an exaggeration to say he was possibly the most honourable person I’ve ever dealt with. It does seem Freeth’s may have got this wrong but name me a single law firm anywhere which hasn’t made a similar mistake? Freeths without Colin Flanagan will undoubtedly be a lesser firm but he’s done an incredible job laying the groundwork for his successor and both as a client and a supplier I wish them Nothing but the best - this one incident will not define Colin’s career. 

Anonymous 03 June 21 11:23

When applying to Freeths real estate team, is it worth mentioning on your CV that you’re a MILF?

R Smythe-Flanagan 03 June 21 15:18

I’m also disgusted by the comments about Colin “man of integrity” Flanagan.

How on earth could the Tribunal, after hearing the case for weeks, have found him to be anything other than credible?  They did, after all, hear his evidence and watch him squirm under cross examination over many hours but it’s a mystery to me as to how they repeatedly found his evidence not to be credible.  

How could the Tribunal find that material non-disclosure and dodgy redactions aplenty took place under the nose of “man of integrity” Flanagan?

How could the Tribunal find that other Freeths witnesses were not credible?  Surely they wouldn’t dare be anything but credible whilst giving evidence under the nose of Freeths resident man of integrity?

It is an absolute travesty of justice.  
 

(that ok Col?)

 

 

Anonymous 03 June 21 21:44

Astonishing that Tempest has not only remained in a job after all this, but somehow remains Head of Real Estate at Freeths! 
 

Shambolic

Yoda Skoda 04 June 21 09:17

Will Freeths appeal the Taplin judgment? 
 

If so, I’m looking forward to the Roll on Friday article about that! 

Nostradamus 04 June 21 09:27

Freeths looks like an early contender for Roll on Friday Golden Turd this year. 💩 

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