Jonathan Laidlaw QC and Lewis MacDonald, instructed by Ian Ryan of Howard Kennedy, act for client cleared in the Baker McKenzie case at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal
Jonathan Laidlaw QC and Lewis MacDonald represented the at the time Human Resources Director at Baker McKenzie LLP, in relation to his conduct of an investigation into the Managing Partner’s sexual harassment of a junior associate in 2012. He was cleared of all charges by the SDT on Friday, on the basis of “the overwhelming weight of the evidence”.
In the early hours of 24 February 2012 a number of associates and employees went up to the Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie LLP’s hotel room after a recruitment event at a university. All had been drinking and continued to do so in the hotel room. When someone suggested they all call it a night, the Managing Partner Gary Senior asked a newly qualified female associate, known only as Person A, to stay behind. She did so, and he then told her he was attracted to her, attempted to embrace and kiss her, and persisted in doing so despite her indicating that such conduct was not appropriate. One of those who had left the room phoned Person A, and others re-entered the room, whereupon Mr Senior desisted and Person A was able to leave.
Person A immediately told a member of human resources present what had just happened. A few days later she agreed to take things further and met the head of Human Resources at the time, Jonathan and Lewis’ client. He listened to Person A’s complaint, and proceeded to take external legal advice, before referring the matter to a senior partner on the Management Committee. An internal firm investigation took place which the Human Resources Director continued to assist with from an HR perspective, but did not determine the outcome of given he directly reported to Mr Senior, and he was not a partner in the Firm. Gary Senior received a final written warning which was approved by the Firm’s Management Committee and Global Chair, along with various requirements to undertake training and abide by drinking restrictions. Person A decided she did not wish to remain at Baker McKenzie, and received a financial settlement before later joining another law firm.
In 2018, the legal gossip website ‘RollonFriday.com’ reported the story, having been tipped off by an anonymous source. Gary Senior was by then in a senior role in the Global Firm, but was quickly forced to leave. The deluge of news coverage that followed led the SRA to investigate, and the Firm to provide the records and email trail of the investigation as far as they still existed.
The SRA alleged, and the SDT found proved, that Mr Senior’s actions in the hotel room, which were not in substantial dispute either at the time or now, amounted to serious professional misconduct. It was further found proved, based on the email trail and record of the investigation, that Mr Senior proceeded to inappropriately attempt to influence the conduct and outcome of the investigation in emails and conversations with the partner leading the investigation and with the Human Resources Director.
The SRA had further alleged that the partner who led the Firm’s response, the Human Resources Director, and the Firm, had also committed serious professional misconduct by allowing Mr Senior to attempt to influence the conduct and outcome of the investigation, by failing to investigate Person A’s complaint effectively and independently, and by failing to inform the Firm’s General Counsel and Global General Counsel of the complaint and investigation. After a 17-day hearing heard over the course of 6 months’, all of those charges were found not proved. The full reasons are awaited, but in the Director’s case the Tribunal found that “the overwhelming weight of the evidence made it clear the fourth respondent was not a decision-maker with regard to the investigation into the conduct of the first respondent and he handed over conduct of the investigation to the third respondent at an earlier stage.” The Tribunal rejected the myriad criticisms made by the SRA and accepted the evidence of the Director that he had done nothing wrong. A further allegation against the Director was withdrawn by the SRA a few days before the hearing started in December last year.
An allegation that all Respondents had failed to report Mr Senior’s professional misconduct to the SRA, was found not proved, because the Tribunal found that such an obligation involves a subjective element, and they accepted that no one considered Mr Senior’s conduct at the time to give rise to a reporting obligation. The SRA’s submission that there was a culpable failure by anyone to think about it at all was clearly not accepted.
Mr Senior was fined £55,000 and agreed to pay a contribution to the SRA’s costs of £40,000.
The case has received substantial coverage in the legal and national press, which should be read with care as not all of it is wholly accurate:
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