Leaked extracts of a report into the Gary Senior scandal at Baker McKenzie reveal the extraordinary behind-the-scenes drama when Senior, who gave an unwanted kiss to a junior lawyer in 2012, emerged as a leading candidate to become the firm's next Global Chair.
Senior was prosecuted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and fined £55,000 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in June for behaving in an "inappropriate manner" towards the woman identified in proceedings as 'Person A' when he was London Managing Partner. Charges relating to the flawed investigation into the 'Incident' were brought against Martin Blackburn (Baker McKenzie's ex-head of HR who is now at KPMG), Tom Cassels, (Baker McKenzie's former head of litigation who is now at Linklaters), and the firm itself, but they were all dismissed.
Extracts of the report, which was commissioned from Simmons & Simmons by Bakers in 2018, were leaked to RollOnFriday in the middle of the tribunal, and a version of this story was published during the hearing - but had to be removed after it sent some of the parties into convulsions.
The report revealed how leaders at the firm, including then Global Chair Eduardo Leite, had knowledge of Senior's conduct with Person A, but did not communicate it to the firm's Nomination Committee in 2015 when Senior was selected as one of the longlisted candidates to succeed Leite.
The report describes how Paul Rawlinson, who was also a nominee and went on to win the role, did not raise the 'Incident' because he was conscious of how it might appear if a fellow candidate was seen to be besmirching a rival. He agreed with Helen Coyle, then-London HR director, that it was unlikely the shortlist of four candidates would include two London partners. The pair decided to adopt a 'wait-and-see' approach.
But, "to the surprise of many", when the shortlist was announced within the firm, it featured both Rawlinson and Senior.
Senior may have ended up becoming Global Chair if not for the ire of a Canadian partner, Jim Holloway. He was sufficiently irritated at being ignored in favour of two Brits that he called up Leite demanding to know "why there was no North American candidate on the list" and to, "more specifically, question why he was not on the list". Leite attempted to placate Holloway by telling him not to worry, because "one of the London candidates could not be Chair as there was an HR issue from some time ago".
But Leite would not tell the Canadian who the problematic partner was, or anything about the "HR issue". Leite fobbed Holloway off by telling him that he "did not know all the details", and that he was restricted in what he could say by a confidentiality agreement. The Simmons lawyers who authored the report noted that Leite was more forthcoming with them and that, "Ironically, when interviewed, Leite indicated that he did not feel bound by the confidential provision".
Holloway's response to Leite's limited disclosures was to call up Rawlinson, who gave up Senior's name and agreed that the Canadian partner should press the issue with Leite.
Holloway told Simmons & Simmons that, when he confronted Leite with Senior's identity in a call in January 2016, Leite responded by asking him "for advice on what to do". Holloway said he told Leite to relay the whole story to Peter Engstrom, Bakers' General Counsel.
Clockwise from left: Leite, Holloway, Senior, Engstrom.
In his interview with Simmons, Leite disputed Holloway's version of events and said that Holloway's advice did not prompt him to contact Engstrom. Regardless, when Leite did flag the Incident with Engstrom in January 2016, he told the global GC almost nothing. According to the Simmons report, Leite did not share any of the details of the Incident with Engstrom or even which candidate was implicated.
Engstrom, who was based in San Francisco, "encouraged" Leite to talk to the unnamed partner, with the apparent intention of getting Leite to persuade him to withdraw his candidacy. But Engstrom heard nothing back from Leite. After three weeks, in February 2016, Engstrom chased the Global Chair, who confessed that the outcome of his chat had "not been satisfactory".
At Engstrom’s insistence, Leite disclosed Senior's name. After several more conversations, Leite "ultimately" gave Engstrom the name of an employment partner in the UK, Sarah Gregory, who held the files on the Incident and could supply Engstrom with more information. But even then, stated the report, Leite "still remained vague on details of the Incident".
Armed with a contact, Engstrom contacted Gregory and had her pull up the documents. They included a Compromise Agreement with Person A and Leigh Day's letter before action for the victim, which demanded two years’ pay and £15,000 compensation.
Having learned the extent of what had been kept from him, Engstrom took the issue to Rafael Jimenez-Gusi, the Chair of the Nomination Committee, and together with Leite they determined that Senior was “not suitable to be a candidate for Chair".
Only they did not want too many people to know that. At the partnership's annual meeting in Paris in April 2016, Jimenez-Gusi, Engstrom and Leite met with Senior and let him have the news. Keen to avoid "any adverse publicity about Senior withdrawing”, together they agreed on a face-saving approach which meant the tainted London partner would be allowed to continue to participate in the Chair selection process, but with his candidacy secretly hobbled and pre-ordained to fail. If he got as far as the final two candidates to be submitted to a partnership vote, he would surreptitiously be bumped down to third place before the shortlist was unveiled, and would thereby be eliminated from the race, and the wider firm (and anyone else) would be none the wiser.
The report described a rancorous meeting in Paris when the full Nomination Committee was informed of the issue with Senior. Its members were "very upset" with Leite for not telling them sooner, stated the report, and he, in turn, became "indignant" with them for blaming him.
Nonetheless, a way forward was agreed. Senior was permitted to finish his term on the firm's Executive Committee, but was confidentially forbidden from standing for further leadership positions. Such was the continuing culture of protection around Senior that, in the following two years, new members of the Nomination Committee spoke to Senior to see if he would be willing to extend his term, blithely unaware of the Incident, its fallout and the conditions limiting Senior's future roles at the firm.
The scandal would have been successfully snuffed, except, as the report concluded, "On 2 February 2018, RollOnFriday published an article in relation to the Incident". It set off a chain of events which resulted in Senior leaving the firm, the SRA investigation and, more positively, a determined effort by Bakers to change its culture for the better.
A spokesperson for Baker McKenzie said, “The Firm’s Executive Committee established a Special Committee which, with the help of Simmons & Simmons, examined how we dealt with the 2012 incident at the time and afterwards. The scope of the report included a review of our corporate governance processes in 2016.
The report concluded that there were a number of shortcomings in our processes. Since that time, we have made significant enhancements to our internal corporate governance processes around the way we vet candidates for leadership positions in the Firm".
"We are a different firm to the one we were a few years ago with new leadership, an enhanced purpose and a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion", he said.