A Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner has denied kissing his junior female colleague on the lips at the end of a day-long and alcohol-fuelled celebration organised by the firm.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal today heard Ryan Beckwith reject the suggestion from Person A that he kissed her or tried to kiss her in a bar where they were drinking with colleagues. The pair had joined around a dozen others on a luxury coach trip three and a half years ago to an Oxfordshire restaurant. Beckwith drank champagne from 11am and continued to drink wine and cocktails before they returned to London, where the celebration continued in a karaoke bar. The lunch and transport was laid on and paid for by Freshfields to mark the end of a long and difficult transaction. Beckwith said the cost was a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared with the millions received in fees for the work.
Beckwith said he recalled little from the evening, but added that he had been 'honest and truthful' with investigators looking into what happened. He insisted there was no evidence he had later sent any email - as alleged by another witness - admitting that he was ‘out of control’.
The married restructuring and insolvency partner said the only explanation for Person A alleging a kiss was that he had at one stage gestured to kiss the top of her head, as he did with other friends and acquaintances, but had not actually done so. He also denied that he had been escorted out of a bar after an ‘incident’ in the bathroom.
In the aftermath of the event, Beckwith spoke to another partner who had seemed to be ‘wagging his finger’ at him during the evening. Beckwith explained it was said by this partner that 'Person A and I were spending a lot of time with each other, we were inseparable at the bar [and] he said it was nothing to worry about but I think she likes you and at one stage you were walking ahead and holding hands’.
The tribunal heard Beckwith had been Person A's appraisal partner. He had tried to find her more interesting tasks during long transactional work, emailing at one stage to say she was a key member of the team and wishing her well on a secondment she was undertaking.
He said the allegation that he was not fully committed to his role as appraisal partner was 'ridiculous' and that he had not taken any decision on whether Person A should be promoted.
The tribunal heard that Beckwith and his fellow partners were concerned at one stage that Person A would leave the firm after the departure of two popular members of staff. It was also a concern she might influence others to feel like they wanted to leave. Beckwith said: '[Person A] was somebody who could be cynical and sardonic at times. Our concern was that, while clearly in and of itself that is fine, it could give juniors the wrong impression... we were worried about losing our associates.'
The tribunal also heard more about Beckwith's past. He had grown up in Basildon, Essex, and was the first in his immediate family to go to university. Having secured a training contract, he had thrown himself into work, leaving himself with just a small group of friends outside law.
The SRA alleges that Beckwith kissed or attempted to kiss Person A in circumstances where he was in a position of seniority or authority. It also alleges that a few weeks later Beckwith initiated and/or engaged in sexual activity, where he ought to have known his conduct was unwelcome and that the other party was intoxicated to the extent she was vulnerable and her decision-making ability impaired. By doing so, it alleges that Beckwith failed to act with integrity and failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in him and the legal profession.
Beckwith denies the charges.
The hearing continues.
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Freshfields' Beckwith: I didn't kiss colleague after boozy firm outing