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.

gary senior baker mckenzie

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.

Tip Off ROF


ShootyMcShootyface 11 September 20 10:07

TL:DR, but based purely on the photos, if I had to choose a Global Chair, it would be Holloway or Engstrom. Leite looks smug and evil.

He might be as nice as pie (I have no idea), and Holloway and Engstrom might torture kittens (again, not saying that they do), but image is important.

FmrCityLawFirmWorker 11 September 20 10:28

Thanks RoF for the detailed explanation of what happened behind the scenes. Thanks also for not focusing excessively on your role in exposing the story (which was, of course, welcome).

Tempted to say "this is partnership firms", given the different approach to corporate governance and responsibility we have seen at global corporations (eg Rio Tinto, McDonalds) ... but one feels that this is more about the dominance/power of a single, long-serving individual?

Interested to hear from B&M peeps.

Lucky Chance 11 September 20 11:06

Involving the firms GC is no assurance an investigation about bad behaviour from senior partners or management will be done properly. They will be inclined to make decisions with a view to protecting their firms  and their mates  in management. A certain magic circle firm’s senior management must be very relieved that a liberal use of their partners cash by way of hush money, combined with a liberal use of gagging clauses, all largely engineered by the firms GC, has kept SRA from looking into clear evidence of deceit by management designed to silence a partner who caught them with their pants down (figuratively speaking, thank goodness).

Anonymous 11 September 20 11:47

If this is the kind of dodgy **** that law firm leaders have to negotiate then you can stick yer top of equity package up your arse!

Metoo 11 September 20 11:55

Well said Lucy Chance. I am an associate at an MC firm (not the same one you seem to be referring to). The GC of the firm is part of management and they are all long time drinking buddies. It would take management rampaging around the building naked swinging axes before he would be forced to admit they could do any wrong. They look out for eachother and you can be sure of closed ranks if there is any criticism against any of them. However if an an overworked second seat trainee panics under pressure and does something, wrong you can expect the tonne of bricks to fall from on high. 

Stop please! 11 September 20 12:07

I can’t get the image of my firms management running naked around the building out of my head. 

Surrey Solicitor 11 September 20 13:32

Metoo. You are spot on but this is the case in all sizes of firms. I was recently driven to self harm (for the first time in my life) by pressure from a referrer who management think is God. He is not part of the firm but might as well be as his word is law. Nothing can upset him. I was told "he pays salaries" . In fairness, management do not know of the self harm but I cant tell them as I have, apparently, complained " ad nauseum" about this man ( a quote from the firm's owner) . If any one from the firm is reading this they will now know who I am but who cares . I have utter contempt for management in firms      

Surrey Solicitor 11 September 20 18:40

To the two people who voted my comment down, you have only proven my point. If you think that to push a person to that point is acceptable then I pity you. Management and their toadies are vermin.


Gerden Geico 11 September 20 19:40

Put ☆ women ☆ and ☆ people ☆ from ☆ equity ☆ seeking ☆ groups ☆ in ☆ charge ☆

Wildoats 12 September 20 00:16

JC wept. I gave up reading halfway through. What a hurricane of excrement. Pi$$ poor behaviour of every conceivable nature from miniature titans with the self awareness of spoilt 3 year olds. 
If I had worked there I would contact clients and staff alike inviting them to jump ship and reorganise elsewhere. Let those partners not invited to sue me. I’m being serious. Phuck me I wouldn’t spend a second in the company of any of the detritus named in the article. Drop them, they’re holding themselves and everyone else back. You’ll survive. They won’t. 

Wildoats 12 September 20 00:58

Unless you’ve worked outside of private practice or further still, outside of law, it’s very difficult to appreciate just how weird law firms are. Some senior solicitors are freaks. But so too are many of the solicitors who work for them.
I’m going to make some sweeping comments about the type of people who become lawyers (particularly City lawyers); confident, aspirational, avaricious, curious, competent, contentious, proud and fragile. Unfortunately they also tend to be obsequious, fawning, dismissive, arrogant and over educated.

The tragedy is the profession is stuffed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of bright, magnificently competitive and achingly aspirational characters. The chances of any of them rocking the boat by calling out pish poor partners is nil. Worse, too many fawn over them, hoping one day they’ll be invited to become one of them.

Partners rely on treating junior staff just well enough to keep them. The reality is after 4-5 years you’re good to go on your own. I wish more would. Instead we have a market with too few firms yet more than enough solicitors for the available work. Result being a few make millions whilst the many work all the hours god sends, often wondering why. Seasoned clients understand we’re busy. Novel clients become exasperated. Both are right to feel irritated. And they do. Why does it take so long? Too few staff. And why’s that? Too little profit for partners. Amazingly, it’s a not oft repeated business model by other sectors. Monopolistic? Probably.

The law is a terrific profession. It’s busy but usually not brain aching, it’s challenging and it’s well paid. It’s interesting and makes a difference for clients. Stories like this make my blood boil. I just wish junior solicitors understood their true value and refused to support useless people like the ones described. They are beneath contempt.

Anonymous 14 September 20 10:00

Very good investigative journalism, even if in the end a number of the allegations turned out to be false. Amazed at the breaches of confidentiality in regards to Senior though and how easily his name was given up.

Anonymous 15 September 20 20:41

Senior can count himself lucky not to be doing porridge.

"Naughty Tory" Charlie Elphicke (ex MP and ex-Hunton Williams tax solicitor) has just been jailed for 2 years for something quite similar...

Anonymous 17 September 20 14:51

I know that the SRA are draconian, but they have yet to send anyone to prison! There has been no suggestion of criminality in the Senior case, much less police involvement, charge, trial or prison sentence. The Elphicke case wasn't similar at all.

Firstway 17 September 20 18:49

Wildoats, well said. I practice in a very niche area of law and felt exactly this. Almost as soon as I qualified I left, disgusted by the increasing signs that I was simply there to prop up partners' profits at the expense of my health. They tried to make the process as ridiculously difficult as possible, to try and not show others in the firm it can be done, and they don't have to put up with the long hours and the vaguest promises of potential reward in the remote future. It also took and is taking a lot of private capital and goodwill while I get off the ground. Regardless, more should do it. 

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