Two long-running regulatory investigations by the Solicitors Regulation Authority came to a conclusion this week.
The case of Peter Walmsley, who was dismissed as a Clyde & Co partner in 2018 following an episode at a club, amounted to a rebuke and a costs payment of £600.
The SRA found he had “failed to have sufficient regard for the well-being of a female trainee solicitor” at the work-related event where she had felt uncomfortable when he put his hand around her waist.
Then there was the case of former Volkswagen Financial Services general counsel Jeremy Bouch, who was fined a maximum amount of £2,000 by the watchdog and ordered to pay £600 costs following an investigation into conflicts.
It was found he approved invoices that appeared excessive without disclosing to Volkswagen that his close relative was working on the matter and their fees were included within the invoices.
But the SRA did not specify the firm involved. One person with knowledge of the situation said the watchdog did not take any action against the law firm because it did not have evidence that the invoices were excessive.
And that was it. After years of investigation, the ending to both cases could hardly be described as dramatic.
It was perhaps good timing then, when the SRA made another announcement this week, which said its fining powers will be radically increased and that it plans harsher sanctions in sexual misconduct cases.
That the U.K. industry regulator has only been able to fine a maximum financial penalty of £2,000 until now was a laughable state of affairs. Its new upper level of £25,000 will still not strike fear into the hearts of many elite commercial lawyers, but at least it is an improvement.
In addition, the SRA has armed itself with tough penalties of “restrictions on practice, suspension or strike off” when dealing with issues of sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment.
Of course, it remains the case that it is reputational concerns rather than regulatory actions that lawyers and law firms fear most.
But given we are still seeing serious situations such as the Dechert-ENRC debacle—which has started to cause a stir in the U.S.—then it is surely a good thing that the main institution charged with upholding the profession’s reputation has been granted a little more power.
The Best Law Firms For Female Equity Partners
How does your firm rank?
I’m talking about the latest research showing which law firms have the highest proportion of women at the equity partner level in the U.K. Check out the tables here.
Law firms have all been talking about this stuff for decades. They set targets, they implement initiatives, they point to their few success stories.
But when it actually comes to it, which law firms have actually promoted a lot of women into their equity partnership?
These rankings are important, not just because they praise the firms that have made the most progress, but also because they show which firms have failed to make the top 25—either because their numbers are poor or, in a few cases, because they refuse to even disclose the data, which makes one suspicious that it is embarrassingly poor.
Less than a quarter of U.K. equity partners at the largest law firms are women. The hope is that by shining a light on each firm’s data this figure will start to improve.
Keeping Up With Crypto
One top private equity partner told me once that he took a risk early on in his career to become an expert in the fast-rising area that he viewed as the future: buyouts. If he were to do the same today, he added, he would probably focus on the world of cryptocurrencies.
But law firms have been slow to build practices in this area.
Part of the problem is that they struggle to hold onto the best lawyers, who all too often join crypto start-ups themselves. Another issue is the slightly troubling way so many of these potential clients view regulation. And the way they are structured can make it hard to know exactly who the client is too. Not the best start for a lawyer-client relationship.
Reporter Jack Womack spoke to a wide range of people for this great piece that explains what’s going on.