Freshfields partners will face huge fines if an internal committee deems that they have misbehaved.

The Magic Circle firm is establishing a conduct committee to investigate partners suspected of breaching rules set out in a 'conduct protocol'. Any partners found to have transgressed will be hit in their wallet with a fine of up to 20 per cent of their annual profit share.

Given profit per equity partner at Freshfields has been around £1.85 million, the worst offenders censured under the scheme could see around £370,000 redistributed to more saintly peers.


Grope jar


"We want to ensure that positive behaviour is consistently valued and that inappropriate behaviour is called out and acted upon" a spokesman at the firm told RollOnFriday.  "For more than a year we have been running a global behaviours programme to drive culture change" the Freshfields spokesman said.

The announcement of the initiative comes at a time when former partner, Ryan Beckwith, was recently found by a tribunal to have acted without integrity by engaging in sexual acts with a drunk junior lawyer in his team. He should have known that his conduct was inappropriate, said the tribunal, and it amounted to an abuse of his position of seniority.

Questions remain over Freshfields' response to the female lawyer's complaint about Beckwith. Senior partner Ed Braham said at the time of the hearing that the firm took all complaints "extremely seriously", and that it instructed an external firm to conduct an investigation when the matter was raised.

It resulted in a written warning for Beckwith which required him to take early retirement if there was another incident. But the firm would not say if it reported Beckwith to the SRA, which would appear to have been an obligation given the nature of the allegations and its warning. 

Freshfields is of course not alone in having to deal with partners for wandering hands or glans. Last year, a senior Slater and Gordon lawyer and his paralegal were fired for repeatedly shagging in the firm's London office. And Clyde & Co axed a partner for inappropriate behaviour.

Freshfields declined to divulge examples of the type of behaviour which would attract a fine, so it's lucky RollOnFriday managed to obtain a copy by other means.

 PARTNER'S CRIME  PROFIT SHARE FINE
Told joke at which underlings felt compelled  to laugh 5% per punchline
Downed a platter of Jägerbombs in under one minute  8% (10% if sick)
Felt colleague's buttock without consent 10% per buttock
Initiated food fight in open plan areas 12% plus cleaning fee
Refused to wear clothes 15%
Murder 17%
Mooted defecting to Kirkland 20%
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Comments

other MCfirm punishment 25 October 19 08:51

Crime - harass and seduce trainees, get one pregnant, she leaves with NDA and payoff

 Fine - shipped off to Dubai for tax free years in the sun, return to London once it’s blown over and get made [redacted by rof] 

Anonymous 25 October 19 10:31

Would Freshfields fine an associate or a member of staff for the equivalent breaches of conduct protocol, or would they fire them? Law firms having one rule book for partners and another rule book for everyone else is a primary reason why the profession is in this mess. Partners are not different when it comes to conduct issues and treating them as if they are special will not solve the problem. And yes, putting a price on misconduct appears egregious without an awful lot more transparency from Freshfields about how they propose to make this work.

Virtue seeking FF 25 October 19 11:24

This sounds like a panic measure from FF. If partners behave badly, they should be censured and warned. If they behave really badly, they should lose their partnership. If their behaviour amounts to a breach of the SRA principles, they should be reported to the SRA. If their behaviour amounts to a crime, they should be reported to the police. There is no place for a “fine” instead and that should surely not be a sanction. 

Anonymous 25 October 19 15:01

Depends on how the internal review works. In my day, if the offender was investigated at all, either the findings would be inconclusive or the penalty would be a slap on the wrist, and the whole thing hushed up with NDAs anyway. 
 

So good on Freshfields for being innovative, hopefully they will police it in good faith. 

Anonymous 25 October 19 17:56

@wtf end of - depends on what the 'sexual harassment' was and if it really happened.

Anonymous 25 October 19 20:21

The findings often are inconclusive for certain types of accusations 15.01, and nobody is forced to sign an NDA.

Agree though, hope this is policed properly and not used to settle scores, used by staff to fine someone they don't like, used by HR to bully staff, or used as part of an anti-male agenda, all of which are significant risks.

Anonymous 26 October 19 19:39

The problem with this is that the overwhelming majority of people feel that Ryan Beckwith was unfairly treated and the SRA acting outside of its remit. What Freshfields should be doing is condemning the decision. The fact that they haven't and are doing this instead makes one question whether the money will really end up going to the most deserving people or indeed be taken from the least deserving.

Billy Bumfluff 27 October 19 12:09

Everyone knows that so-called "sexual harassment" is just a PC phrase invented by snowflakes as a way for the cucks to further oppress white men and advance the great replacement.

Well done Freshfields for inventing a scheme that is clearly designed to obfuscate these bogus so-called "claims" and ensure that the rights of Partners to guide and direct their juniors is upheld.

And if you have to pay a small fee to do it well that's just the price of responsibility.

Human 27 October 19 23:33

I believe I can explain the underlying logic.

Chances are that a top 30 London partner is a borderline sociopath who fought his way up with Machiavellian intensity, leaving miscellaneous cutlery in the backs of more squeamish colleagues and having displayed a drive for domination and gold worthy of Game of Thrones.

That single-minded drive perhaps explains the propensity of such partners to blindness to propriety, decency, honour and other scruples of lesser mortals.

By spelling out that lots of casual sex after work events with drunk trainees is, far from a display of your virility and power, a dumb move which will result in your effective demotion relative to your peers - financially and therefore in terms of prestige (because, let's face it, at partner level, the money is just about keeping the score), the proposition of propositioning is considerably dimmed. It's about understanding your target audience.

NDAs 28 October 19 06:27

[email protected] 2021, people do get pressurised to signing NDAs. I am aware of an example of a lawyer in a magic circle firm being told in effect “take the money and sign up to an NDA or the whole firm will fight you all the way even if it means destroying your career”. She took the money and the partner who had harassed her was promoted soon after. People also sign NDAs because they want anonymity even if they have been badly treated. And the issue too is that signing an NDA is often used to hide the bad behaviour from the rest of the firm, the regulators, clients etc or even law enforcemtn. So it is not just about someone willingly signing an NDA. It is wrong that firms can use NDAs to shield themselves from criticism and protect partners who should be accountable for their mistakes.

A Nonymous 28 October 19 08:17

I love the congestion charge.  Keeps the plebs off the road and makes my drive in easier.  I wish they'd raise it to £50 a day

Likewise, this will stop the povs and no-marks from touching my women while I can continue to give my female juniors the closest possible supervision.

Hope they bring it in nationally.

Anonymous 28 October 19 18:55

The problem with your explanation, Human, is that it doesn't explain why consensual sex should result in a demotion or a fine. Nor does it mention that both parties were drunk in the Beckwith case.

Anonymous 28 October 19 19:51

NDAs @ 0627 - both sides may be pressurised, but nobody is forced to sign an NDA. The whole point of an NDA is that it draws a line under the matter and allows both sides to move on, so it is no surprise and quite proper that the partner was promoted soon after. NDAs can't be used to hide matters from law enforcement. Without NDAs, people would be likely to deny everything, so you would end up with people bringing cases and losing them whereas in the past they would have benefitted from a payout. A lot of accusers would gladly settle for an NDA. The lawyer in the magic circle firm would have had to prove the partner harassed her in order to get anything if it hadn't been for the NDA.

GetReal 30 October 19 12:51

Anon @1951, NDAs are typically not put in place to “draw a line” and “allow people to move on”. They are typically put in place to hide behaviour that is embarrassing to firms or individual partners, and so that behaviour which is inappropriate and sometimes contrary to the values of their firms and the profession overall, does not come to light. Management of law firms are clearly not driven by altruism in putting NDAs in place, but rather are driven by a desire to sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet. 

I am very surprised that you think it is fine for a partner who harassed trainees to be later promoted post NDA. And that the trainee should somehow be grateful because she would otherwise have to prove her case and that is not needed with an NDA.

And another thing, both “sides” do not necessarily have to sign an NDA as you suggest in what appears to be your earlier comment, they are often crafted so that only one side (the aggrieved party) cannot disclose what happened or the pay off they got from the firm to be silenced.

Anonymous 30 October 19 12:57

Anonymous 1951 really needs to read what he or she is saying one more time and think about it some more! An NDA is a good thing because otherwise you have to prove your case? An NDA is a good thing because it allows someone who has behaved badly to move on? Shouldn’t they be sanctioned, rather than just have the partnerships funds used to pay blood money? Astonishing comments!

Anonymous 30 October 19 13:48

Re NDAs: 

Imagine that a partner is inappropriate with a trainee. Trainee is terrified of repercussions but informs HR. HR informs management. Management determines that because said partner is rather profitable and letting partner go is out of the question, to make the issue go away, the trainee is told that the partner will be dealt with, but would the trainee mind signing an NDA? Trainee feels glad that something will be done, and does.

Partner is given a quiet telling off, but made head of department and continues to behave terribly. 

 

 

 

Anonymous 30 October 19 17:49

@Get Real - the problem with your argument is that it makes out the people are forced to sign NDAs. They aren't - they both enter into them freely and mutually benefit. It isn't always the case that the accusations are true for an NDA to entered into, it just a way of closing the matter and can be best for everyone.

Of course its proper that the partner should be promoted after the NDA is signed - the matter is closed by the payment to the accuser and ofter there is no finding of harassment. Why wouldn't the partner be promoted? Not to do so would be to suggest punishing again and again even after the matter has been resolved.

Anonymous 30 October 19 18:32

@13.48 - or to put it another way:

Imagine that a trainee accuses a partner of being 'inappropriate', but doesn't allege criminality. The matter is never investigated, so it isn't known whether or not the partner actually did behave inappropriately, but in an effort to draw a line under the matter, the trainee is offered a large payoff, which they gleefully accept. In return, an NDA is signed and the matter is closed.

As the matter is closed, the partner is unsurprisingly promoted. The trainee, even although they received a large payout, wants the partner never to be promoted for the rest of their lives and wants another payout, so they break the terms of the NDA. Although there haven't been any other complaints about the partner, the trainee asks their friends at the firm for dirt on the partner, the trainee then accuses the partner of 'behaving terribly' without saying what they mean by this or providing any evidence, nor have there been any further complaints. The trainee doesn't return the money they received under the NDA, preferring to have their cake and eat it too.

birdsandbees 31 October 19 09:21

yes Anonymous 808, it is possible to get someone pregnant. Didn't you pay attention in Biology classes in school?

Anonymous 31 October 19 10:50

Anonymous 1749 thinks the matter of harrasement of a trainee is “closed” by a secret payment and an NDA. And thereafter, it is as if the partner did no wrong! This just sums up everything that is wrong with the use of NDAs by law firms to hide bad behaviour by partners.

When I first read the post, I thought he or she was being ironic/sarcastic, but now I realise he or she actually believes an NDA should properly be used for that purpose. Thankfully, the SRA do not agree with you. 

Anonymous 31 October 19 11:42

Not sure what biology classes you did, birdsandbees if that's what you were taught!

Anonymous 31 October 19 12:52

Looks like 10.50 hasn't read yesterday's comments at 17.49. They make the assumption that people are forced to enter into NDAs - they aren't - they choose to do so because they benefit both parties. They also assume that people who sign NDAs are guilty of what they are accused of, which is often not the case.

Of course the matter is closed after the NDA is signed - expecting the partner not to be promoted afterwards is like expecting the receiver of the payment to give back the money even if the NDA is kept to.

Using NDAs between two willing parties is entirely appropriate and the SRA has no power to stop them, so thankfully its views on the subject are irrelevant.

NDAs 31 October 19 13:24

[email protected]

Your conclusion that the SRA do not have any jurisdiction over NDAs is simply factually incorrect. See the notice issued by the SRA relating to NDAs on 12 March 2018 which is clear on this.

Billy Bumfluff 31 October 19 15:59

Strange and slightly sinister that anyone would assume that a trainee whose career depends on the goodwill of a law firm always has choices about signing an NDA.  This has all the insight and understanding of someone who demands to know why a teenage rape victim didn't accuse her teacher/employer/relative/priest at the time.

When there is an obvious power imbalance between two parties then it is frankly ridiculous to assume that any agreement reached between them is entirely voluntary and benefits both.  In many if not most cases the less powerful party signs their rights away to protect themselves from persecution or further attack.

Anonymous 31 October 19 17:19

The only thing that's 'simply factually incorrect', NDAs, is that the comment at 12.52 says that the SRA have no jurisdiction over NDAs. It doesn't, it says that the SRA can't stop two willing parties from entering into NDAs, which is correct.

Human 31 October 19 17:23

Anonymous 28/1/19 18:55 if a doughty defender of the droite de partneure to have sex with people they train, employ and manage, provided it is "consensual" and regardless of whether it is decent, honourable, responsible, in the business' interest, at business premises or events, repeated, involves coercion or pressure insufficient to be deemed rape, involves excessive consumption of alcohol, involves a large age gap, and is carried out on a serial basis.

Anonymous 31 October 19 17:36

@Billy Bumfluff - you speak as if the accuser doesn't get paid for signing an NDA. In these cases both parties have power over the other, and it is often the accused who is pressurised into signing (and handing over cash) to avoid their name being dragged through the mud, whether they did anything or not. Your idea of what is 'sinister' would appear to differ from most people.

The comparison to teenage rape victims is misplaced here and shows a lack of judgement, but it is valid to question why people delay making a complaint at the time. There may well be valid reasons for doing so, but there may well not be.

Anonymous 31 October 19 18:03

30th @ 12.57 - yes, NDAs can be good things for non-criminal matters if they prevent the accuser having to go through a long drawn-out process to get redress and can allow both parties to move on. Astonishing comments to suggest otherwise!

Billy Bumfluff 31 October 19 19:40

@Billy Bumfluff - you speak as if the accuser doesn't get paid for signing an NDA

No I don't.  Money does not restore what is lost in a sexual assault and firms pay the absolute minimum they think they can get away to someone who is, thanks to the nature of an NDA, unable to go elsewhere for advice and under a great deal of pressure to accept it.

You clearly don't have much experience of law firms.  You don't seem to understand how they work at all.

Anonymous 31 October 19 21:15

Yes Human, a defender of the right to have sex, even on a repeated or 'serial' basis or after alcohol between two consenting adults. You may not like it, but it really is none of our business.

Anon 01 November 19 02:24

Anon @1736. It is not the accused partner who pays the cash. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what these NDAs are, it is not “blood money”.It is the firm who pays the cash, not the accused partner. The firm pays the cash with a view to hiding bad behaviour and protecting partners who have made mistakes. 

And [email protected], whilst it is true to say the SRA “cannot stop” an NDA being signed, that does not mean they do not have jurisdiction over NDAs and there are not sanctions available for NDAs entered into which breach SRA principles. 

Seems you think it is fine for a powerful partner to harass and seduce a drunk trainee so long as a payment is made and it is all hushed up with an NDA. I am glad you are not my supervising partner.