The legal profession’s equivalent of the ‘Big Four’ have declined to follow their counterparts in accountancy by revealing the number of partners who have been dismissed from or left their firms for inappropriate behaviour.
None of the magic circle – Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters – would tell the Gazette how many partners had departed in such circumstances over the last four years.
Deloitte chief executive David Sproul revealed in an interview with the FT this month that the firm had fired 20 partners over the last four years for inappropriate behaviour. EY then disclosed that five partners had left the firm in four years for behaviour including sexual harassment and bullying. PwC said it had dismissed five partners in three years, while seven KPMG partners left the firm in the last four years.
Although there have been reports of partners leaving City law firms, reports have been piecemeal and no overall figures have emerged.
It is understood one of the reasons why law firms are reluctant to reveal the figures is that it would be easier to identify individuals. Deloitte has around 1,000 UK-based partners, PwC about 900, EY around 700 and KPMG 635. By contrast the magic circle firms each have between 100 and 200 partners in the UK.
Allen & Overy issued the following statement: ’A&O’s culture is underpinned by our global code of conduct which sets out the standards we expect everyone to follow and behaviours that are not tolerated which include bullying, harassment and discrimination. We take our responsibility to our people very seriously and have a framework of channels in place to enable staff to speak up on any concern they have. This includes HR contacts at local and global levels, global values partners and the use of Safecall, an independent speaking-up service available to all partners and staff. Incidents reported through any channel are dealt with appropriately and sensitively by HR and may result in sanctions being taken against individuals, including people leaving the firm.’
The FT reported today that accounting watchdog the Financial Reporting Council had been criticised for an alleged failure to focus on sexual harassment at the firms it supervises. The FRC told the FT that there was no requirement on accounting firms to inform it of investigations into staff conduct unless the probe involved ‘regulated activities’.
In November, the Solicitors Regulation Authority updated its guidance for people making allegations of harassment, following a steady increase in reports. A letter from SRA chief executive Paul Philip to the House of Commons women and equalities committee in October revealed that the regulator had 50 ongoing cases – up from 23 in March.