Risk Update

Law Firm Conflicts Updates — Dentons’ Conflicts-influenced China Breakup, Trump Conflicts Concerns Continue

Will Dentons’ China Breakup Trigger a Domino Effect?” —

  • “Dentons has decided to end its combination with Dacheng Law Offices, the mainland China arm of the firm… Dentons said in an email alert to its clients that its decision to end the combination is due to ‘an evolving regulatory environment for Chinese law firms in China—including new mandates and requirements relating to data privacy, cybersecurity, capital control and governance.'”
  • “The breakup puts an abrupt end to Dentons’ long-touted tagline of being the world’s largest law firm. As of last year, the firm reported a headcount of over 12,000 lawyers. It will force an inevitable reduction to Dentons’ $2.94 billion gross revenue intake reported in 2022.”
  • “The Big Four firms and their affiliated Chinese law firms have reportedly suffered raids from Chinese authorities, as did corporate investigations firm Mintz Group and American management consulting firm Bain & Company, according to The New York Times.”
  • “‘The Chinese regulator tends to be pretty opaque,’ said one Beijing-based partner at a U.S.-headquartered law firm. ‘But I think that’s going to increasingly be a challenge for global law firms to be able to operate in the marketplace. The intrusion of the Chinese government regulator into law firm business will not stop with Dentons.'”
  • “For international law firms that have substantial practices in mainland China, the country’s focus on national security and the broader geopolitical issues has major implications. Under the broad national security umbrella, Chinese lawyers can be required to divulge explicit client information to the state. Lawyers can also be prohibited from releasing China-related data to their international counterparts, all making basic conflict checks and due diligence on cross-border deals impossible to implement.”
  • “The ‘Chinese Wall’—an old term used to describe corporate measures adopted by firms to prevent information leaks internally—is now neither relevant nor adequate.”
  • “According to Kent Zimmermann, a U.S.-based principal at Zeughauser Group, there has been an increasing number of law firm leaders who have been reassessing their China operations in recent months. ‘Dentons is not the first professional services firm practicing law to pull out of China,’ said Zimmermann. ‘It is not going to be the last. Given the conditions, which make it virtually impossible to practice there as a Western firm and comply with the laws and regulations, it wouldn’t be unsurprising if other firms follow suit.'”
  • “American law firms will not risk having their lawyers go to jail over conflict checks, due diligence and their right to act in their clients’ interest, Zimmermann said. They will also not tolerate having Chinese authorities barge into their offices unannounced.”
  • “‘The solution may be exactly what Dentons is doing—to have an independent Chinese firm with which the Western firm has a close relationship, but they’re independent entities.'”

Trump’s Legal Team Is Enmeshed in a Tangle of Possible Conflicts” —

  • “Former President Donald J. Trump’s growing cast of lawyers is marked by a web of overlapping interests encompassing witnesses, co-defendants and potential targets.”
  • “M. Evan Corcoran, a lawyer who accompanied former President Donald J. Trump to court this week for his arraignment on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election, has given crucial evidence in Mr. Trump’s other federal case — the one accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents.”
  • “Another lawyer close to Mr. Trump, Boris Epshteyn, sat for an interview with prosecutors this spring and could be one of the former president’s co-conspirators in the election tampering case.”
  • “And Mr. Epshteyn’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, is defending Mr. Trump against both the documents and election case indictments.”
  • “While it is not uncommon for lawyers in complex matters — like large mob cases or financial inquiries — to wear many hats or to play competing roles, the Gordian knot of intertwined imperatives in the Trump investigations is particularly intricate and insular.”
  • “Some of the lawyers involved in the cases are representing both charged defendants and uncharged witnesses. At least one could eventually become a defendant, and another could end up as a witness in one case and Mr. Trump’s defender in a different one.”
  • “All of that sits atop another thorny fact: Many of the lawyers are being paid by Save America PAC, Mr. Trump’s political action committee, which has itself been under government scrutiny for months. Some of the witnesses those lawyers represent work for the Trump Organization, Mr. Trump’s company, but their legal defense has not been arranged by the company, but rather by Mr. Trump’s own legal team, a person with knowledge of the matter said.”
  • “Although clients might choose to stick with their lawyers despite a conflict, just this week, prosecutors under Mr. Smith sent up a warning flare about these issues. They asked Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing the documents case, to conduct a hearing ‘regarding potential conflicts’ arising from the complex client list of one lawyer, Stanley Woodward Jr.”
  • “‘This is boundary breaking,’ Bruce Green, who teaches legal ethics at Fordham Law School in New York, said about the totality of the issues involved. ‘What I’m most curious about is why these lawyers want to play so many roles. Usually, lawyers just want to be lawyers.'”
  • “Many potential objections to conflicts in these cases could be waived by the clients or otherwise mitigated by the courts, Mr. Green said. But he cautioned that judges often lean toward avoiding conflicts at all costs — up to and including disqualifying lawyers who face them — because the consequences of allowing them to continue could result in the dismissal of the case.”