Clifford Chance paid an "enormous" sum to buy a partner's silence after he complained that the firm's Asia Pacific management fabricated comments in his appraisal report so it could dock him equity points. Global Managing Partner Matthew Layton wrote to the entire APAC partnership informing them of the firm's apology to the lawyer.
The former partner, whom RollOnFriday is not naming and will refer to as ‘Gagsy’, worked in one of the firm's APAC offices. He claimed that the report of his annual review in 2017 included a controversial comment attributed to him which he never made. He also alleged that the report included other justifications for reducing his pay which were never presented to him during his appraisal, said a source.
Gagsy is understood to have complained to the firm that he believed his appraisal report was doctored by APAC regional management, which is headed up by APAC Managing Partner Geraint Hughes.
When Gagsy challenged the veracity of his appraisal record, APAC management suggested that the "wrong version" had been given to him due to a "secretarial error", but stood by its content, said a source. They then rebuffed Gagsy's request for a copy of the original meeting notes, only relenting when he threatened to consult Clifford Chance's partnership counsel and external lawyers.
When he got the notes, Gagsy found they supported his version of events, said a source. But the partner and the firm agreed to regard the matter as closed after Hughes' team acknowledged errors were made and apologised to him.
Shortly afterwards, however, Gagsy learned that an internal investigation into the incident led out of London was set to conclude that an innocent “secretarial error” was to blame, rather than finding that the cause was deliberate fabrication.
It triggered a year-long dispute between Gagsy and Clifford Chance management which ended with a "very significant" settlement, on the proviso that he would leave the firm and agree to be gagged by a non-disclosure agreement. The size of the pay-off was described as "huge" by sources.
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In an unprecedented concession, Managing Partner Matthew Layton and then-Senior Partner Malcolm Sweeting notified the entire APAC partnership that Gagsy had received an apology.
The text, seen by RollOnFriday, stated there were "shortcomings in a number of aspects of the firm's processes and failings which lead to the concerns [Gagsy] has raised" and that "accordingly, an apology has been given”. It concluded that an amicable resolution had been reached, but the firm was “reviewing lessons that can be learned from the concerns raised by [Gagsy’s] situation to ensure that our processes evolve in a manner which continues to justify the confidence of partners”.
A spokesman for Clifford Chance said, “Geraint has the full support of our global leadership team and the AsiaPac Leadership Group". He said, "Our Asia Pacific region has seen phenomenal growth and financial success over the past three years, driven by an inclusive and collaborative team culture fostered under the leadership of Geraint, the Asia Pacific Leadership Group and our partners across the region".
Gagged by its own gagging clause, Clifford Chance was limited in what it could tell RollOnFriday, but it defended the integrity of its appraisals. "Understanding and developing high quality partner performance is a critical pillar of a successful and collaborative partnership culture", said the spokesman. "To that end, we have robust processes in place to manage effective appraisals, including upward and peer feedback".
"Like any well run business, we continually review how our approach and systems can be improved to maximise their effectiveness and value to our firm and our partners and to promote the collaborative culture that underpins our partnership ethos", he said.
Gagsy did not respond to a request for comment.