Risk Update

Conflict Considerations — Law Firm Mergers May Make for Client Conflicts, Judges Welcomed to the “Bear Pit”

Law Firm Mergers, Pitched as Benefiting Clients, Also Can Bring Headaches, Conflicts” —

  • “When Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling announced their merger plans Sunday, they said it was ‘driven by clients’ needs for a seamless global offering of the highest quality and depth.'”
  • “But Brennan and other in-house veterans who have experienced mergers say there also can be dark sides, such as new conflicts, administrative hassles and cultural tensions.”
  • “Kimberly DeCarrera, who was a legal chief and chief financial officer for a nearly a decade before starting her own fractional general counsel business, said conflicts checks are always the No. 1 concern for legal teams when news of a law firm merger breaks. ‘Obviously there are headaches any time a relationship changes,’ DeCarrera said.”
  • “She recalled being in the middle of a case when the law firms representing both sides decided to combine. ‘It wasn’t a bet-the-company type of case, but how do you handle that process?’ DeCarrera said.”
  • “Conflicts are becoming increasingly unavoidable as more firms combine, said Brennan, who was an associate general counsel at Carvana before joining Axon in 2021. ‘There’ve been so many mergers that it’s almost inevitable that every big firm is going to be representing our primary competitor,’ she said.”
  • “‘As these mergers continue to happen, law firms and clients need to be prepared. The conflicts piece is really the biggest con. And being flexible and finding a way to draft language and create understandings that both clients feel comfortable with is really important.'”
  • “Sometimes firms may have to cut ties with clients if they can’t work around conflicts.”

Judges join lawyers in the bear pit” —

  • “While we catch our breath as change and challenge rain down on our profession, we may take cold comfort from the fact that we are not alone: judges are beginning to feel the heat, too, from the evolving expectations of a society under stress.”
  • “You may wonder what that has to do with us, but the Financial Times reported last week that High Court judges had invested in controversial tax avoidance schemes which were challenged by HM Revenue & Customs, including one judge who has ruled on tax avoidance cases – and each has retained their interests in the schemes after taking their positions as High Court judges. Whatever one’s take, it is clearly not of the same order as the allegations against the justice of the US Supreme Court.”
  • “The UK does not require its judges to make systematic disclosures about their interests. The UK Guide to Judicial Conduct, which is written by judges themselves, merely requires judges to make ad hoc disclosures to parties in particular cases if the judge views they have any conflict of interest or if they believe there is the risk of an appearance of a conflict of interest. In other words, judges decide for themselves.”
  • “We lawyers have been under heavy pressure for years over our alleged role in facilitating tax avoidance, for instance following the Panama and Paradise Papers’ leaks. This has led to a serious debate about our ethics, for instance when something is lawful but viewed by others to be wrong. Judges have different roles, but it surely cannot be long before there is a beefed up and binding code of conduct for our judges.”
  • “Lawyers are private actors, with an element of choice. Judges are state actors who have been seen as above the fray. But as the two examples of tax avoidance and climate change show, judges are now as much in the mêlée as we are.”