Leading Silk Rips Lining From Leading Law Firm FieldFisher

MatthewLohn FieldFisher
“What was needed was not legal advice but judgement, common sense and the courage to stand up to the executive as appropriate.”

Leading QC Alison Levitt has excoriated law firm FieldFisher and partner Matthew Lohn in a report over advice the law firm provided to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, (RICS) saying the firm had either ignored or misjudged potential conflict of interest issues, among other matters.

The report was commissioned to conduct a review over allegations that RICS had attempted to suppress an internal report that had criticised the way the organisation ran its finances and unfairly dealt with non-excutive members of the RICS board who wanted to investigate the matter.

The issue arose in 2018 when one of the RICS non-executive directors had queried the extension of the organisation’s overdraft from £4 million to £7 million as a result of “inaccurate cashflow forecasting”, which had been partly explained by a £400,000 discretionary bonus paid to the CEO.

A continued investiation lead to the director continuing to express concerns and the non disclosure of an audit report, which he said should be addressed by RICS, leading to a review which ultimately lead to the conclusion that there was no governance problem, exonerated the Executives and lead to the firing of the whistle-blowing non-executive directors.

FieldFisher Conflict

Leading Silk Rips Lining From Leading Law Firm FieldFisher 1
Alison Levitt QC

However, one of the major issues that concerned Alison Levitt was a ‘clandestine’ and ‘partisan’ approach taken by the law firm that had sided with the Executives against the four non-Executive directors. The firm had taken the view that their priority was not to threaten or ciritise the CEO or the COO, she said.

Levitt’s report said the lawyers here were “seriously overused.”

“What was needed was not legal advice but judgement, common sense and the courage to stand up to the executive as appropriate.”

Proof of its bias included a Fieldfisher document setting out the review’s conclusions, which had been drafted before the review’s terms of reference had even been finalised, RollonFriday reported. 

Records revealed how the GC spoke disparagingly of the non-Executives to Lohn, calling one “not bright enough” and another a “sneaky weasel”. But the pair also criticised the Executives for their actions, which Levitt said represented a “private acknowledgement” that they knew their whitewash didn’t reflect reality. 

Levitt had almost finished her 467 page report in June this year when Fieldfisher belatedly disclosed its file on the matter, which Levitt had been requesting for months.

“Reading it completely changed this report from the one I had been going to write”, said Levitt. 

The governing council of RICS last week published her report and voted to accept all of her recommendations, including the need to conduct a “wide-ranging examination” of its purpose, governance and strategy.

More specifically, she said the general counsel, who had a close relationship with Fieldfisher with whom she had worked for 16 years prior to joining RICS, and relied upon them, should not have a pre-existing relationship with RICS’ external legal advisers.

FieldFisher said that it was “disappointed” by Levitt’s findings.

In a statement, Fieldfisher said: “We are aware of Alison Levitt QC’s findings following her review on behalf of the RICS. We fully respect that she has provided her views based on her own judgement.

“We are disappointed to note that some of the actions of the firm and the partners who were involved in seeking to help RICS, in what was an exceptionally difficult time for the organisation, have been criticised.

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