Have fun working for a client which knows you think it's morally repugnant.
Ogier is set for some awkward client meetings after it was forced to continue acting for a sanctioned Russian bank.
The offshore firm applied to stop working for VTB Bank in its pursuit of a company owned by Sergey Taruta, a Ukrainian oligarch and the governor of the Donbas region of Ukraine. Ogier has been acting for VTB in its £30 million claim against the company in the British Virgin Islands High Court.
In its application to drop VTB, Ogier said that Russia "invaded Ukraine in an entirely unprovoked way in circumstances which most of the world, including Ogier, regard as unjustified and unacceptable". Since VTB "is a majority state owned Russian bank", it was now "against Ogier’s ethics and code of practice to act for a company so closely associated with the Russian state". The firm, which recently opened up shop in Beijing, also cited a "reputational concern".
As well as being ethically beyond the pale, Ogier said acting for VTB meant its lawyers risked breaching the sanctions regime, and it "will not place its employees in that sort of jeopardy".
There was also the small matter of bills. Thanks to the sanctions, "Nor could VTB pay", complained Ogier. That wasn't an issue for Justice Adrian Jack, who has previously blasted KWM's ex-senior partner and Latham & Watkins and Kirkland & Ellis, and who rejected all of Ogier's arguments.
He determined that a licence would exempt Ogier's lawyers from criminal liability related to sanctions, like the one initially sought by Freshfields of its own volition so that it could keep acting in the UK for VTB. Ogier told RollOnFriday a month ago it would not seek such a licence, but now it has been compelled to obtain one.
In the interim, Ogier's lawyers will be able to avoid criminal liability by working for VTB for free, said the judge. "Given the large amount of work Ogier have done for VTB, a short period where they cannot bill whilst a licence is being obtained is not onerous", said the judge.
When the firm is allowed to be paid without its lawyers risking prison, the impact of sanctions won't be a problem, said the judge. Or, it will, but Ogier can suck it up. "It is true that VTB, with other Russian banks, has been ejected from the SWIFT bank transfer system", he said. Ogier's fees will therefore "need to be routed by other means", such as carrier pigeon, "through countries, like China or India, which have not imposed sanctions on Russian entities".
The judge said Ogier's counsel, David Alexander QC, accepted it would be "potentially disastrous" for VTB's case if Ogier dropped out. "Far from being a problem, this, he submitted, was a good thing", said the judge: "Reprehensible entities such as state-owned Russian banks should forfeit their rights by being denied the right to litigate".
However, said the judge, "Even pariahs have rights", and "It is precisely when VTB are stigmatised as a pariah that VTB need the best endeavours of their legal representatives to advise them...however uncomfortable it may be for Ogier".
The judge said any obstacles faced by Ogier (working for a PR disaster, being unpaid, navigating the world's grey money markets, being unable to sleep at night) were outweighed by the requirement to uphold the rule of law, and its lawyers were "obliged to continue to represent VTB to the best of their skill and ability".
He said he was making the judgment public "so that it will be known that Ogier are continuing to act for VTB not out of personal choice, but because this Court has refused to allow them to stop".
Ogier told RollOnFriday, "The judgment shows that Ogier has made every effort within the bounds of its professional obligations to come off the record in this matter, including instructing a leading London silk to argue the case before the Court. Ultimately, however, the Court has made a detailed, reasoned judgment, which we respect and, as officers of the court, will of course abide by".