Controversy over top London firms notoriously flexible stance on conflicts of interest is mounting following a series of high-profile deals that have this year seen UK firms apparently breach local bar rules.

One major firm, Allen & Overy (A&O), has controversially emerged as an adviser to more than one party in three separate instructions this year: the insolvency of TXU, advertising giant WPPs bid for Cordiant and the on-going battle to control UK supermarket group Safeway.

A&O has strongly denied any wrong-doing, but a growing number of commercial lawyers are privately critical of such tactics, which are regarded as contrary to the Law Society of England and Wales conduct rules, even though the magic circle firm obtained client consent in each case.

Concern over UK firms conduct had already been heightened by a recent study from Bristol University law lecturer Janine Griffiths-Baker, which found major UK firms are routinely willing to act for multiple parties, although this is expressly restricted under UK bar rules.

Meanwhile, a survey by Legal Week of more than a 100 senior UK lawyers this month found that 64% of respondents believed firms should not be able to act on two sides of a deal, while 48% branded so-called Chinese walls, used to manage potential conflicts, as ineffective.

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