“Oh, What a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive,” said Judge Guy Anthony, quoting Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion, as he sentenced British Biglaw attorney Francis Bridgeman to 12 months in prison on Friday. The former Allen & Overy (A&O) and Macfarlanes partner, who had already had his membership of the latter firm’s limited liability partnership terminated, then collapsed in the dock.
Until recently, Bridgeman, 43, was just another hotshot Biglaw equity partner enjoying a millionaire’s life-style. Educated at Oxford University, he joined Magic Circle firm A&O in the early 1990s and rose through the ranks so quickly that he made partner in 2000, aged just 32. Having got married, he bought a big house in the countryside outside London and became a governor at a local school. Three years ago, he capitalised on his success by moving to boutique financial law firm Macfarlanes, where profit per equity partner is still high for U.K. standards (last year it came in at £752,000) but the hours and stress are generally considered less than at the likes of A&O.
Then, on April 6 2010, everything changed for Bridgeman, in the most unexpected and surreal way….
After work that day, the bank restructuring specialist went out drinking with colleagues near his office in London, sinking five pints of Guinness, before getting the train back to the country town near where he lived. Despite being drunk, he got in his car — which as usual he’d left in the parking lot that morning — and set out on the last leg of his journey. On the way, he crashed into a telephone pole. Fearful of the consequences, Bridgeman abandoned his car and set out on foot for home, walking for three hours across fields to get there.
A few hours later, police spotted Bridgeman’s Range Rover in a ditch, traced it to his address, and arrived to interview him. At which point Bridgeman elected to try and cover up his actions by inventing an extraordinary tale. He claimed that he’d been kidnapped by a group of armed men in the station as he got into his car, then driven at knifepoint with a bag over his head in another vehicle before being dumped in a wood.
But a breath test that showed alcohol was still present in Bridgeman’s system as he told this yarn aroused police suspicions, which were heightened when they found CCTV footage of the drunken lawyer stumbling through London Bridge station hours before the supposed kidnap. The case against him was complete when his DNA was found on the airbag in his car, showing that he must have been driving it when it crashed.
Bridgeman’s story marks the highpoint of a busy month of scandals involving U.K. lawyers. A couple of weeks ago, Richard Graham Simkin, 59, a former partner in the London office of Fulbright & Jaworski, was told to expect jail time for his part in a scam that cheated the firm out of £100,000 in false expenses. One of the ruses employed by Simkin and his accomplice wife, Zakia Sharif, a former office manager at Fulbright, involved the pair billing the firm for their stays in luxurious hotels via falsified invoices that suggested the money being spent was going on recruitment agency fees.
Meanwhile, Manchester lawyer David Friesner, who stole £81,000 from his firm, is likely to be heading behind bars when he’s sentenced next month. Freisner may run into fellow Manchester lawyer Nick Heywood, who was sent down earlier this month for defrauding a vulnerable lottery winner out of his fortune.
And the fun is likely to continue well into the new year as the trial of ex-Hogan Lovells partner Christopher Grierson – who allegedly stole £1million from the firm in false expenses over four years – gets under way.
The Benedict Arnold Society, a casual pub meet-up for legally-oriented Americans and their friends, will be having its inaugural meeting this Thursday at the Witness Box pub on Tudor Street in central London. Join us there from 7pm. For more information, please contact Kirsty Grant.
Alex Aldridge is Above the Law’s U.K. correspondent. He also writes a weekly column for The Guardian and is the Editor of Legal Cheek. Previously Alex was Associate Editor of Legal Week, having begun his career with The Times. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexAldridgeUK or email him at [email protected].