After years of over-charging, City lawyers could face tough justice

Author: By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor

Clients have told a review led by former Tory cabinet member Lord Hunt of
Wirral that lawyers are guilty of over-charging, failing to provide
objective advice and breaching commercial confidentialities. New figures
show City law firms are emerging from the recession with big rises in
profits since the start of the year. Research by PriceWaterhousecoopers
found that profits per partner at the UK’s largest law firms was up by as
much as 41 per cent. The average partner’s earnings in the top 10 biggest
law firms rose by almost £30,000 to £181,000.

Lord Hunt’s report, on the regulation of the legal profession, will outline a
tough new approach to governance of City firms. It is expected to endorse
recommendations made by a former Ministry of Justice civil servant, Nick
Smedley, whom Lord Hunt asked to investigate regulation in the City. He
concluded that the current regulatory framework for City law firms
undertaken by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority does not “address the
true risks”.

The City has been hit by a number of scandals involving corporate law firms in
recent years. In 2005, a top City lawyer was jailed for eight years for
stealing £5.8m from clients’ accounts to fund a “life of opulence”.

The sums plundered by Michael Fielding, 63, a partner in the London firm
Lawrence Graham, had been almost beyond comprehension, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin
QC said at Southwark Crown Court. “Put simply, of its type this case
could hardly be more serious… it is off the financial scale,” he said
at the time. The court heard that Fielding had used his “immense
intellectual capacity” to hoodwink clients.

In 2007, Barry O’Brien, a former head of corporate finance at Freshfields
Bruckhaus Deringer, was fined £9,000 and agreed to pay £50,000 in costs over
his conflicted role in Philip Green’s aborted takeover of Marks &

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