Global firm Baker McKenzie’s London managing partner Alex Chadwick faced a barrage of questions at a ‘town hall’ meeting for all lawyers and staff following press revelations of an alleged sexual assault by a senior male partner, the Gazette has learned.
The partner was promoted after the alleged incident while the associate left the firm, staff heard at the 9 February meeting. She received a settlement and signed a confidentiality agreement. London staff as well as the Gazette are aware of the partner’s identity. However, the firm will not reveal it at the former associate’s request because of the risk she might be identified. The partner is in the process of leaving the firm, though his profile remains on its website for now.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority told the Gazette that it is considering an investigation. This would be focused on outcome 10.4, which requires solicitors to ‘report to the SRA promptly, serious misconduct by any person or firm authorised by the SRA, or any employer, manager or owner of any such firm’; and 10.11, which demands a full and prompt investigation and report when a firm faces a possible claim for redress.
Any Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing would end the secrecysurrounding the partner’s identity. Professional regulation lawyers point to the 2009 Court of Appeal case Napier & Irwin Mitchell v Pressdram Ltd, which made clear that the tribunal’s work is public. ‘Pressdram confirmed that there was no confidentiality in an SRA investigation,’ said solicitor Tony Guise, who acted in underlying regulatory proceedings which led to the ruling.
Karen Jackson, discrimination lawyer and principal of didlaw, pointed out that the non-disclosure agreement with the alleged victim could also be challenged. ‘A court will override an unreasonable NDA or one which seeks to cloak unlawful conduct,’ she said.
In a statement, Baker McKenzie said: ‘We are cooperating in full with the SRA. As a firm, our values of inclusion and diversity are extremely important to us and we are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all employees. That is why we are appointing a leading law firm to conduct an independent review of all aspects of this matter and how it was subsequently handled.
‘The review will also look at and review all our complaints policies and procedures to ensure our employees are protected and have a voice. We will follow the recommendations of the review and will take all appropriate action.’
It added: ‘We acknowledge we should have handled this matter better.’