Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer hit back at the tactics used to force them to stand down, insisting that not a word of confidential information was revealed to the retail entrepreneur’s consortium.
Hugh Crisp, Freshfields chief executive, said: “The only thing we’re really concerned about is that there is no suggestion that we gave confidential information – or ever would have given it – to Philip Green’s consortium. Any lawyer that did that would lose his job and his career.”
The firm will now miss out on fees for the bid that could have run into millions.
M&S had expressed concerns that Freshfields’ previous work for the retailer, especially its advice on an employment contract for George Davis, designer of its Per Una clothing range, would put it in possession of sensitive information that could be directly relevant to the bid.
A high court judge ruled that the potential conflict was so serious that Chinese walls would not be seen as appropriate to overcome the conflict.
Freshfields was forced to step aside when the Court of Appeal agreed.
But, speaking after they had ceased work on the bid, the lawyers said they had gone through their normal conflicts process and were still convinced there was no conflict.
Barry O’Brien, who led the bid team, said he never had knowledge of any details of the employment contract and the firm would have needed a “crystal ball” to realise when it took on the job that the contract would be considered so central to the offer.
He said his team was “very disappointed” to be off the bid and an air of “gallows humour” had descended on his team since losing the work.
Rather than the lost fees, the firm said it was most concerned that its integrity had been challenged and its assurance that no confidential information would or had passed was not enough to satisfy Slaughter and May, M&S’s lawyers.
Because the court accepted that the firm had always acted in good faith, Mr Crisp said that had left the firm feeling it was the victim of a tactical move to remove Mr Green’s first-choice advisers.