Hello and welcome to the Fides Weekly Update. Take a look at this week’s key trends, moves and developments in legal and compliance.
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1). DoJ settlement confirmed – what next for RBS?
As a result of the lengthy investigation into RBS’ selling of toxic loans leading into the financial crisis, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has agreed on a settlement amounting to nearly $5bn that puts to an end a major obstacle for the UK bank.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland has reached an agreement “in principle” with the DoJ to settle the probe with a payment of $4.9bn (£3.6bn). The penalty relates to the bank’s mis-selling of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) between 2005 and 2007, for which $4.75bn has already been fined by the US Federal Housing Finance Agency.
RBS has been facing repercussions from its mis-selling actions since the financial crisis. Currently 72% government-owned, the bank’s share price has struggled since 2009 and has lost money every year since a £45bn bailout in 2008.
This week’s settlement marks a major turning point for the bank, and signals a stage at which they can realistically target growth.
Primarily, it puts RBS in a promising position to pay dividends to its shareholders for the first time since the crash, extending the confidence which was built after having posted its first annual profit in a decade in February this year.
The second priority will be to start selling government stake in the bank, working towards the largest privatisation efforts to date in the UK.
However, the Wall St Journal estimates that complete privatisation of RBS will take years. Compared to Lloyds’ £20.3bn bailout, which has now been entirely recovered, with the bank returning to full private ownership in May 2017, RBS’ £45bn bailout indicates a longer road to recovery, and it is yet to be seen whether the sell-off will prove profitable for the UK Treasury.
Nevertheless, the news of the DoJ settlement brings optimism to shareholders, with RBS’ share price rising 6 per cent on Thursday morning.
2). Quinn partner dismissed over inappropriate conduct
Baker McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Dentons and now Quinn Emmanuel has joined the list of law firms to be embroiled in a case of inappropriate conduct as it sacked litigation partner Mark Hastings on Tuesday following an internal investigation.
Two allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against Mr Hastings in February, with Mishcon de Reya partner Alison Levitt QC drafted in to conduct the firm’s internal investigation. Following the presentation of Levitt’s findings, Hastings was dismissed from the partnership without compensation on the 8th May.
Mr Hastings is a well-known figure in the international commercial litigation field, and joined Quinn Emmanuel in 2016 after high profile move from Addleshaw Goddard where he was head of fraud, regulatory and corporate crime.
No further details have been given about the nature of the allegations against Mr Hastings or his departure, although Quinn has not asked the two employees to sign any form of non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in relation to the allegations.
The firm has since referred itself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which will gather evidence into Quinn’s handling of the misconduct allegations before making a decision whether or not to formally investigate them.
Quinn’s actions in this case have marked a change in the way law firms have handled misconduct allegations to date, which has so far been to protect the identity of wrongdoers through non-disclosure agreements and private settlements. Self-disclosure to the SRA demonstrates the firm’s intent to address the issue head on.
Experiences of inappropriate conduct are far too common in the law, as a survey by The Lawyer in March revealed. The findings show that sexual harassment has taken place in 55 of the UK’s top 100 firms in the last year, with respondents from 14 of the UK’s biggest firms said that they had witnessed or experienced harassment in the last month alone.
Law firms have looked to address a number of their people processes in response to misconduct allegations seen over the past few months. Linklaters has launched an external whistleblowing hotline for staff as part of its SpeakUp initiative, whilst Travers Smith have encouraged staff to call out inappropriate behaviour as part of its ‘ThatsNotCool’ campaign.
3). Movers & Shakers
US-qualified securities lawyer Melissa Butler becomes London head as Oliver Brettle steps aside to focus on implementing the firm’s 2020 strategy
Clifford Chance partner Thomas Weitkamp will become a partner in Latham’s Munich banking team
Carol Van der Vorst joins the US firm’s city base
Clifford Chance senior associate Tom Picton joins Ashurst’s securitisation group, focusing on the consumer sector
Litigation partner Louise Bland joins from Ellisons Solicitors
Robbie Constance joins as a partner from RPC
Tim Armsby and Gurmeet Kaur will join Pinsents’ finance and projects practice in Dubai, with Armsby taking responsibility for leading the firm’s practice in the Middle East
Global co-head of construction and infrastructure disputes Hamish Macpherson to join the US firm’s Sydney base