Magic Circle

It takes a while to get over squandering an empire. As our habit of placing the prefix “Great” before “Britain” suggests, we’re still not quite there yet. But deep down we know we blew it. The evidence is everywhere: from our dentists, who don’t really know what they’re doing anymore, to our universities, which are crumbling, just like our schools, hospitals, and public transport.

Somehow, though, the U.K’s legal system has avoided being dragged into this spiral of decline. Yes, we’re still good at law — so good, in fact, that London is the top destination in the world for international companies to settle disputes, and English law the most popular among international in-house counsel (40% use it, with just 14% opting for New York law). And, in spite of the relatively tiny size of the British domestic legal market, our law firms manage to give yours a run for their money, with the Magic Circle quartet of Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Freshfields and A&O outdoing most of their U.S. rivals in terms of turnover and profits.

Doubtless part of this success stems from the fact that Britain is the home of the Common Law, which, unless some joker on Wikipedia is deceiving me, was invented around the 1150s by King Henry II. And as we saw during the April nuptials between Prince William and his bride Kate, our “Ye Olde Ingland” nostalgia sells very nicely to foreigners….

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Maybe it was the hypnotic effect Pippa Middleton’s ass had on Prince Harry? Or perhaps it was simply that Chelsy Davy didn’t want to marry into the crazy old royal family? Either way, shortly after William and Kate tied the knot in April, Harry and Chelsy split up.

And what did the Zimbabwean blonde bombshell do next? She became a lawyer. Yes, last week the ex-girlfriend of Princess Diana’s youngest son started life as a trainee with top London law firm Allen & Overy.

“Let’s watch Chelsy,” the Sun newspaper crowed on Wednesday, after snapping suit-clad Davy making her way through London’s financial district to the Magic Circle giant’s office. The article, fascinatingly, went on to note that Davy “really was legally blonde.” And that was it. End of story. In fact, according to an A&O press officer I spoke with the other day, Davy starting work at the firm is “no story at all.”

But I beg to differ….

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Deidre Dare

Last month, we reported on the latest adventures of Deidre Dare, the sexy expat lawyer who once worked in the Moscow office of Allen & Overy. Her London lawsuit against the firm was dismissed, but Dare is now suing A&O here in New York, seeking $35 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

In the same post, we mentioned that Dare was seeking to raise $25,000 to publish Expat, a book based on her time in Allen & Overy’s Moscow office. Dare described it as “a novel about a group of Westerners living and working in Moscow, Russia and their extravagant but dangerous lifestyle,” with a plot “inspired by a British Petroleum scandal that happened when I was there.”

Dare was trying to raise the $25K on Kickstarter, the popular website that serves as a fundraising platform for creative types with a surplus of ideas and a shortage of cash. Did she succeed?

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deirdre dare expat allen and overy.jpgFor those of you who have missed Deidre Dare, the expat lawyer who was terminated from the Moscow office of Allen & Overy after writing a smutty steamy online novel, give thanks. She’s baaaaaack.

Deidre “To Russia With Donkey and Dwarf Love” Dare is struggling with the cash flow these days. The Columbia Law grad’s London lawsuit against Magic Circle firm A&O for unfair termination in its Russia office was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, so she filed a new complaint in New York. As you might expect from an amateur sex novelist, the complaint is rather juicy. Dare (a.k.a. Deidre Clark), who was a senior attorney in A&O’s London, Singapore and Moscow offices from 2007 to 2009, claims that she was terminated after giving into — and later spurning — her supervising partner’s sexual advances. (Excerpt: “[Tony] Humphrey made sexual advances on Clark, who was intoxicated at the time. This conduct included intimate sexual contact. Humphrey kept saying “I love sex.”)

Dare is upping the ante on the lawsuit. In London, she sued for £3.5m, but in her Big Apple lawsuit, she’s hoping to take a bigger bite out of A&O: namely, $35 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

“I think NY will take jurisdiction,” Dare, a member of the New York Bar, told us by email. “And thank god for that.”

In the meantime, Dare is working on another project that is, er, rather racy….

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Ed. note This is the final installment in London-based journalist Alex Aldridge’s series of stories for Above the Law about the royal wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton. You can read the prior posts here and here.

Well, they got married.

Best man Prince Harry remembered the ring. None of Wills’ disgruntled exes opted to speak now rather than forever hold their peace. And Kate — who has been made a Duchess rather than a Princess — even smiled. So now for the party!

Unless, that is, you work at one of London’s U.S. law firms, where lawyers staffing American deals are missing out on the public holiday everyone else in Britain is enjoying. “There are no celebrations here,” one cheery soul told me this morning in that weird Madonna accent Yanks acquire when they’ve been in London too long.

Don’t worry, though, the joke will be on us on next week, when we enter the existential crisis that customarily follows royal hysteria.

“What the hell happened there?” we’ll mutter, warm beer still on our breath.

“Oh no, we’ve only gone and got over-excited about that bunch of royal weirdos again,” we’ll groan, as we remove our commemorative Wills & Kate mugs from view and pour our tea into alternative vessels.

“Why do we, the country that brought the world the rule of law, have a royal family at all?” we’ll wonder indignantly, gnashing our yellow teeth and feeling a touch murderous….

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Ed. note This is the second in a series of posts that Alex Aldridge, a London-based journalist who covers legal affairs, will be writing for Above the Law about the upcoming royal wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton. You can read the first post here.

In Britain, middle-class people who don’t know what to do with their lives have the option of trying to wed a royal.

If that doesn’t work, the situation is much the same as in the US: they become lawyers. A case in point is Prince Harry’s on-and-off girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who will begin a traineeship with “Magic Circle” law firm Allen & Overy in September, having failed to secure the ginger hell-raiser on a permanent basis. Had Kate Middleton’s 2007 split with Prince William proved final, our future queen — whose ex is an in-house lawyer — may well have gone down the same route.

Needless to say, royals don’t do law. It’s too aspirational. They don’t even sue; one lawyer who has had dealings with The Firm once told me (in jest, possibly): “The royal family don’t take people to court, they kill them.”

Perhaps this explains why they’re so keen on the military: Wills and Harry have followed family tradition by going into the air force and army, respectively. They probably won’t stick around long, though. Like Princes Charles and Andrew before them, the pair will soon be eased into a middle age of government handouts and state-provided housing. Royals, bless ‘em, are basically very rich poor people.

So is a union between a very rich poor person and a member of the middle class likely to work?

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Memorial Day weekend is almost here, and we all know what that means: the arrival of summer. And we all know what summer means: people taking their clothes off, at the beach or pool.

People taking their clothes off got us thinking about one of our favorite personalities here at Above the Law: Deidre Dare, the sexy ex-associate in the Moscow office of Allen & Overy, who started writing about erotic exploits on the internet. Dare presented her work as fiction, but she did hint that it was in part autobiographical (a point she underscored by posing online in her undies).

Alas, the powers-that-be at A&O were not amused by Dare’s literary endeavors. After seeing that the project finance lawyer’s writing talents extended to sex scenes as well as sale-leasebacks, they terminated her employment. Dare then turned around and sued the firm, seeking £3.5 million in damages.

And now Deidre Dare is once again in the news….

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Angela Reinholz: Apparently getting pregnant didn't screw her enough.

It takes balls to file this kind of lawsuit.

A man working for the British firm Eversheds filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit after being fired from the firm. He claimed that the firm should have fired a woman out on maternity leave — but Eversheds didn’t because it was worried that the woman would file a sexual discrimination lawsuit.

Catch-22 for Eversheds? Maybe. The English Employment Tribunal ruled in favor of the laid off man. The Daily Mail (gavel bang: ABA Journal) reports:

John de Belin won £123,000 in damages after one of Britain’s biggest law firms ‘deprived him of his livelihood’.

Mr de Belin, 45, was one of two associates facing redundancy from Eversheds’ property division in Leeds. The other was Angela Reinholz, 40.

To decide who would be sacked, the firm undertook an assessment of both Mr de Belin’s and Mrs Reinholz’s abilities, including financial performance, discipline history and absence records.

Mr de Belin was fired in February 2009 after losing by just half a point, scoring 27 out of 39 in the exercise against Mrs Reinholz’s 27.5.

The problem was that Reinholz’s score was “inflated” while she was out on maternity leave…

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This morning, the Lawyer reported that Clifford Chance was changing the requirements for associate bonuses in London:

Clifford Chance is set for a radical overhaul of its associate bonus system, with the maximum award now open only to senior associates and payments no longer based primarily on hours worked….

A spokesperson for ­Clifford Chance said: “While billable and investment hours continue to be ­important, the bonus will not be directly linked to achieving a target number of hours. We’ll weigh a ­number of factors to ensure a balanced and flexible bonus scheme.”

Dear Lord, it looks like the American epidemic of moving towards merit-based compensation just hopped a transatlantic flight.

But don’t worry Clifford Chance New Yorkers, your bonus requirements will not be affected by the changes in London…

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White and Case logo.JPGOur coverage of the London legal market tends to be episodic. We tried offering more regular coverage for a while, with our Letter from London column, but we put the feature on hold to focus on domestic developments. (We might revive the London column if we can find a sponsor for it.)
We will, however, cover major news out of London — such as last week’s massive defections from White & Case to Latham & Watkins.

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