Freshfields partner Ryan Beckwith acted without integrity by engaging in sexual acts with a drunk junior lawyer. He resigned just before the tribunal delivered its findings.
Beckwith (41) had been accused by a junior female lawyer in his team, known as 'Person A' (20s), of two separate incidents following marathon drinking sessions.
Beckwith, who was Person A's appraisal partner, admitted to kissing her in a pub following after-work drinks and then accompanying her in a taxi back to her home. He conceded to the tribunal that sexual activity then took place, something which he admitted was "extremely stupid" and that he would regret for the rest of his life. But he claimed it was a mutual mistake and a "consensual sexual encounter between two adults". Person A told the tribunal that she was so intoxicated she could not consent.
The tribunal found that Beckwith had engaged in sexual activity with Person A at a time when she was so drunk that her decision-making ability was impaired. It also found that the partner should have known that his conduct was inappropriate and that it amounted to an abuse of his position of seniority. But it made no finding on the issue of consent.
The tribunal concluded that Beckwith breached SRA principles 2 and 6 in failing to act with integrity or behave in a way that maintained public trust in him and in the provision of legal services. It fined him £35,000 (although given that Freshfields' partners pull in an average of £1.8m a year, this probably amounts to what Beckwith tipped his outdoor clerk last Christmas) and ordered him to pay £200,000 in costs. It is probably the lightest sanction that could have been imposed given the verdict. Alisdair Williamson QC, Beckwith's barrister, had clearly anticipated the prospect of his client being struck off and requested a fine or suspension instead.
Person A also alleged that Beckwith gave her an unwanted kiss following an all-day drinking session which started with a boozy 10am bus trip to the Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant. Beckwith told the tribunal that he had been drinking pina coladas that day. The event continued in London with lawyers necking jagerbombs in a karaoke booth into the early hours. Another partner warned Beckwith to be "careful" after he was spotted holding hands with Person A and was seen to be "inseparable" from her at the bar. Beckwith denied kissing her, and the tribunal said it was unproven.
The tribunal heard how Person A had reported the incident to the firm, but that she was unhappy with the final written warning meted out to Beckwith. She said she felt her experience "hadn't been taken seriously" and that the sanction against Beckwith "wasn't proportionate or serious enough". She escalated the matter by writing to senior partner Edward Braham, and then by reporting it to the SRA.
"He has been crushed by this process" said Williamson QC. He added that Beckwith, except for this blemish, had been a "shining example of the profession", but there was now a question as to whether he would ever be employed in the legal profession again. The insolvency specialist has not worked since he took a leave of absence from Freshfields in December last year. He is able to appeal the judgment.
Beckwith next week. How it might look.
"Ryan Beckwith has been on indefinite leave from the firm for some time and has now resigned as a partner with immediate effect" said Braham.
"The firm takes all complaints extremely seriously", Braham added. "We want a culture that is welcoming and allows our people to flourish, and we work hard to achieve that. We are running a firm-wide programme to ensure our values and behaviours are consistently experienced across the firm, and I am confident we will continue to achieve change where it is needed."