Its partners earn millions of pounds a year advising clients on employment and benefits issues, but Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer omitted to check that changes to its own pension scheme were legal, it emerged yesterday.
The admission was made by Guy Morton, joint senior partner, during cross-examination in an age-discrimination claim brought by a former employee. Peter Bloxham, Freshfields’ former head of restructuring, claims he was “forced” to retire from the firm aged 54 because the pension reforms made it “economic madness” for him to stay employed.
Freshfields’ website claims that its lawyers have “have particular expertise in all the legal aspects of . . . restructuring pension arrangements”. Despite this, Mr Morton conceded that the firm had not considered the full legal implications of a radical pensions shake-up introduced last year.
Tim Pitt-Payne, QC, for Mr Bloxham, told the employment tribunal how an eminent legal expert, Jonathan Sumption, QC, was hired to help Freshfields’ senior management with the pension reforms. Mr Pitt-Payne proposed to Mr Morton that Mr Sumption was “not asked to advise about age discrimination issues”. Mr Morton replied: “That is correct.”