The Solicitors Regulation Authority has taken preliminary steps into opening a possible investigation into the conduct of Dechert and its former white collar head, Neil Gerrard, in their advice to former client ENRC.
The move comes after London’s High Court found in May that both Dechert and Gerrard had variously acted in breach of their duties to the client over the course of the firm’s retainer. Since the judgment came out the U.K. industry regulator has been gathering material ahead of a possible investigation into breaches of its standards, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Hogan Lovells, which represents ENRC, is also pressing the regulator to refer Dechert and Gerrard to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, according to a letter seen by Law.com International.
In its letter, Hogan Lovells sets out why it believes the SRA ought to take the most stringent action and refer Dechert and Gerrard to the SDT, which has the power to fine and strike off lawyers.
It recapitulates several of the judge’s findings against Gerrard—including that he had leaked confidential information to the press and gave the “wrong advice about ENRC’s potential criminal liability” to the detriment of his client. But it also outlines several cases of possible wrongdoing against Dechert, notably that the firm’s senior management had knowledge of Gerrard’s actions, and that Gerrard was “only one of 12 Dechert partners who advised ENRC during the course of Dechert’s retainer”.
It adds: “It is worth noting in this regard that not one of these partners, to ENRC’s knowledge, sought to challenge or correct Gerrard’s approach or advice.”
The firm further asserts that the findings “are clear evidence” of breaches of several principles of the solicitors’ code of conduct, including, among others, requirements to: uphold the rule of law and the proper administration of justice; act with integrity; act in the best interests of each client; provide a proper standard of service to your clients; and to treaty clients fairly.
The firm adds that, in light of the “seriousness” of the High Court’s findings, “it would clearly be in the public interest for the SRA to commence proceedings before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal against Dechert and Mr Gerrard without further delay”.
In May, London’s High Court found that Dechert, Gerrard, and the Serious Fraud Office had at least recklessly breached their duties to ENRC. The court concluded that Gerrard was “the instigator” of three press leaks designed to help him expand an investigation to extract more fees from his client.
The case is far from over, with the High Court expecting to hear arguments for causation and loss in a separate hearing, which is yet to be scheduled.
An SRA spokesperson said: “We await the full conclusion of the High Court matter before moving forward with our investigation.”
A person with knowledge of the matter said the regulator needs to wait for the additional hearings connected with the matter to be completed before it can advance its investigation.
Dechert declined to comment.
Lawyers for Gerrard declined to comment.