A lawyer has won AUS$450,000 (£250,000) from Australian firm HWL Ebsworth after its Managing Partner fired him for writing a book, telling him "you should be packing".

Tim Griffiths subsequently managed to secure a Special Counsel role paying AUS$300,000 at Ashurst, albeit in Papua New Guinea, after Juan Martinez "effectively marched him out the door" for what the Supreme Court of New South Wales deemed were "irrational and wrong" reasons.

Griffiths was earning AUS$450,000 a year at HWL Ebsworth as a fixed share partner when his billings collapsed from AUS$2.3 million to AUS$1.5 million after his major client left the firm.

Without consulting the other partners, Martinez used the terms of a partnership deed to give Griffiths three months notice. Four weeks later, "out of the blue", he emailed Griffiths, "I do not want you in the practice any longer. I wish to propose you leave tomorrow".

The previous year Griffiths completed a book about a photographer on the Shackleton expedition, Endurance, which Martinez used as a pretext for firing him. "If you want to be an author, you can actually resign from the partnership and be an author", he said under cross-examination.

COUNSEL: So your evidence is that no partner of the firm, HWL Ebsworth, can write a book without your permission?

MARTINEZ: Correct.

Martinez claimed that Griffiths spent 90% of his time in the office preparing for his book launch, but based the assertion on spotty data Justice Stephen Robb said the approach was "extraordinarily lax" given the stakes were another man's job.


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Martinez also accused Griffiths of taking precedents, but it transpired that he had only printed off a couple to see if they would help his brother, who was closing down his business. Martinez, said the judge, acted as if there was an "iron rule" against it. "I cannot see how these matters could possibly be such serious breaches that their occurrence would justify summary termination", he said.

The case showed Martinez taking a high-handed approach to management. When Griffiths begged him over email for a meeting, Martinez replied, "I have had other things on my mind BUT you should be packing."

Griffiths said it was "quite embarrassing to be packing boxes with all the solicitors and administrative staff around me", especially when one of the other partners arrived to check through each box.

Griffith's credibility "was in the first rank of witnesses", said the judge, whereas Martinez made "unqualified allegations" that Griffiths was "dishonest, disingenuous, evasive and lacked candour". Martinez' evidence to support his claim that he was authorised to fire partners unilaterally was also "meagre", he said.

RollOnFriday asked Martinez if he’s going to fire anyone else for writing a book or printing off precedents, and if he regards himself as a megalomaniac. He did not respond.

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Comments

ShootyMcShootyface 28 June 19 09:09

Amusingly, Martinez is listed as an expert in Dispute Resolution.

Sounds like a bit of a tool. Griffiths dodged a bullet.

Rufus Youngblood 28 June 19 11:02

Many years ago I wrote to the managing partner of Blakes (now Ashurst ) in Port Moresby about a job.  He was very positive.

In a different life I might be working with Griffiths now.  I bet he'd be a much more interesting fellow than 99% of lawtedes.

Anonymous 28 June 19 11:05

Always so reassuring to have a Managing Partner like this.  Should he be stepping down in rank embarrassment?

The judgment makes interesting reading. 

Notwithstanding that Martinez [at para 132] "...made unqualified allegations that Mr Griffiths was dishonest, disingenuous, evasive and lacked candour in most of these paragraphs or sub-paragraphs, sometimes multiple times", the Court at para 134 felt somewhat differently about the credibility of Griffiths...

"I make these observations because, having observed Mr Griffiths being meticulously cross-examined over about one and a half days, where close attention by the Court was required because of the constant appearance that Mr Griffiths may have been being asked questions that related more to a case being made as the matter proceeded, rather than one that had been pleaded, I formed the confident opinion that Mr Griffiths was a witness whose credibility was in the first rank of witnesses that I have observed giving evidence in my time as a litigation lawyer.

I found that, in giving his evidence, Mr Griffiths was attentive to the questions, responsive, immediate, careful, and appeared to me to be being entirely frank. That was equally true for subject matters that he would have expected and been prepared for, and subject matters that had not been raised by the pleadings. Mr Griffiths did not simply parrot his case, but gave carefully considered answers to each of the questions that were put to him. It appeared to me that, where circumstances required Mr Griffiths to adjust his evidence to concede that the manner in which he had expressed his recollection may have been flawed, he did so, even where against interest."

[and at para 174] "I find Mr Griffiths to be an honest and reliable witness whose evidence the Court can confidently rely upon, subject only to making due allowance for the inevitable imperfections of human memory."

This is somewhat contrasted with the Court's view on Martinez' credibility at para 175:

"I consider that Mr Martinez was generally a credible witness, who gave his evidence forthrightly and as accurately as his recollection permitted. In that respect, Mr Martinez was a satisfactory witness.

However, in relation to a number of important issues where the recollection of Mr Martinez was in conflict with the evidence given by Mr Griffiths, I have preferred the evidence of the latter. I will explain those findings below when I deal with the relevant issues"

And the immortal response under cross-examination (regarding the alleged 90% of time spent on the book) when presented with data showing that it couldn't possibly be accurate:

"Q. It wasn't a genuine estimate either when you recorded it in your email or when you deposed to the truth of it in your affidavit, was it?

A. It was genuine for me."

Rufus Youngblood 28 June 19 15:01

Oh good grief - I just read that Lawyers Weekly article.  Mr Martinez comes across as nothing short of an absolutely charming fellow of the highest integrity.

Anonnnn 30 June 19 08:56

Hmmm there's a reason people refer to the firm as Hell With Lights. I went for a job interview there years ago - the hr person said 'now the partner you'd be working for can be confrontational' - I couldn't end the interview fast enough.

Hell with Lights 18 July 19 10:48

Sounds like a lovely place to work and that poor girl in the lawyers weekly article above must be so disappointed that she has missed out on such a welcoming workplace. Nah she has dodged a bullet and her premature celebrations can now be remembered, not for getting the job, but for NOT getting the job. Be very thankful, and whatever you do, do not write a book and be successful because it upsets the clever people above you.   

SecularJurist 18 July 19 17:00

Sounds like social inadequacy or intellectual inferiority. Sounds like a firm of nerds. Hope he writes another book, just to piss them off.

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