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Laurence Simons Newsletter December 2014

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/12/14

Lawyers under fire - pair accused of attacking managing partner
Legal 500 publication outlines best law firms and lawyers
No brotherly love in Indian law firm dispute
Indian Firm in UAE first
Criminal complaint by FIFA follows World Cup fiasco  
Keeping Women In The Workplace: Is Freezing Eggs The Answer?

 


Lawyers under fire - pair accused of attacking managing partner

There are many things lawyers can come under fire for, but not usually torturing the firm's managing partner.
However, that is exactly what Alecia and Andrew Schmuhl, a married couple who are both lawyers in Virginia, have been accused of after Mrs Schmuhl was fired by Bean Kinney & Korman.

The pair face a charge of not only forcing an entry into the home of the firm's boss Leo Fisher, but of stabbing both him and his wife Susan Duncan. Indeed, the evidence for this particular action is rather compelling, given that the victims remain in hospital with multiple wounds.

However, while there may be an obvious motive as well as a smoking gun - or in this case blood-stained blades - there is still, apparently, a defence. According to her defence lawyer, Alecia Schmuhl was suffering from depression and anxiety, which had hampered her working performance. At the same time, we have the strange fact to contend with that Mr Schmuhl was wearing nothing but a diaper at the time of his arrest later that day.

Odd behaviour indeed. It has been reported that the stabbing part was just the last horrific element of the attack, which began with Mr Schmuhl dressing up as a police officer and tasering Mr Fisher. He and his wife were then handcuffed and tortured at length before the actual stabbings.

Alecia Schmuhl was spotted on CCTV that weekend buying the taser, although she claimed she stayed in the getaway car while her husband carried out the attack.

Her defence, therefore, is this: After her struggles at work led to her sacking and a dispute over whether she was due any severance, her husband, apparently a manipulative and aggressive man, pressured her into helping him exact revenge on her behalf. As for the diaper, that was worn due to him not wanting to have to take a bathroom break while torturing his victims.

Whatever emerges from this disturbing case, there does appear to have been some meticulous planning. Not, of course, that anyone should be congratulated for that. The whole affair has left one lawyer in hospital, one charged with extreme violence and set to be an object of ridicule for his toilet habits, plus a third now jobless and charged with aiding the attack, as well as suffering from poor mental health to start with.
It is clear that a fourth lawyer - the defence attorney - has rather a large job on his hands.


 

Legal 500 publication outlines best law firms and lawyers

Most professions have their own guides, yearbooks and awards ceremonies that seek to establish who is the best and can offer the most reliable service - and the legal profession is no different.

If the Legal 500 may be considered the equivalent of the Michelin Guides - only with a global flavour - there were plenty of stars flying around in the recently-published issue.

Among the firms to be honoured at a ceremony and networking dinner in London on November 26th were some familiar names. Slaughter and May picked up the Corporate and Commercial award, while Weil, Gotshal and Manges took the specialisms award for its private equity transactions. Pinsent Masons came top in gaming and betting, while Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer led the way for dispute resolution.

Other big-name winners included DLA Piper (insurance), Norton Rose Fulbright (projects, energy and natural resources), and Clifford Chance (public affairs).

In the US, there was a similar pattern of some big names doing well. Clifford Chance had the asset finance and leading team of the year awards. Norton Rose Fulbright picked up the project finance team of the year prize, Latham and Watkins was environment team of the year and DLA Piper was sports team of the year - obviously for its off the field work, not anything it did with bats, balls or running shoes. Weil, Gotshal & Manges did well Stateside too, winning the transactional team of the year gong.

These, of course, were just some of the many awards and the Legal 500 sorts the wheat from the chaff in countries all over the world. In doing so, it has confirmed the high status of many leading firms, yet again.


 

No brotherly love in Indian law firm dispute

India's largest law firm, Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh A Shroff & Co, has long been a family business, but it appears the question of who in the family is actually in charge is itself a sufficiently moot point to end up in court.

A huge row has brewed up over whether Shardul or Cyril Shroff is the true owner of the firm and its assets, one that has ended up going all the way to the Bombay High Court, where the pair, who have run the firm since their father died in 1994, have agreed to go to mediation.

The dispute has not only brought attention to the biggest law practice in the world's second most populous nation, but it has also brought out more high-profile lawyers. In Cyril's corner was senior counsel Iqbal Chagla, while Shardul was represented by former government finance minister - who is also a lawyer - P Chidambaram.

Shardul is the one who initiated the action, with a lawsuit against his brother, as well as Cyril’s wife, Vandana, plus partners L Viswanathan, James Abraham, George Goulding, Ashwin Maheshwari and the firm itself.

The dispute centres on the way the firm was to be divided up in accordance with the will of the late mother of the two, Bharati Shroff. Not only is she no longer around to tell her two squabbling boys to behave, but, according to Shardul, her wishes in the will were overridden by messrs Abraham and Goulding when they decided to split the assets 50-50 between the brothers. This action amounted to them acting as if they were a probate court, Shardul's suit argues.

Mr Chidambaram stated that having become somewhat estranged from Cyril, Mrs Shroff's original instructions concerning the equal division of 52,000 units of equity were to be discounted, and that she was disinheriting him on the grounds of her poor treatment by him and his family. This codicil was added to the will in January this year, before she died.

In response, Mr Chagla has said Cyril is disputing the will, arguing that his brother was heavily involved in drafting the document and therefore it does not accurately reflect his late mother's wishes at all.
High Court judge Justice Dhanuka told the pair to complete their mediation by December 31st, unless it was mutually agreed to extend the process.


 

Indian Firm in UAE first

While one Indian law firm is the subject of a fierce ownership battle, another has been busy covering new ground - on the Arabian Peninsula, in fact.

Corporate law firm Kochhar and Co has just announced the establishment of the first Indian-owned legal practice in the UAE, after an office comprising 12 lawyers and four partners was established in Dubai. This is its latest pioneering move, having previously become the only Indian firm with offices in Saudi Arabia and Japan. It also has five offices in the United States.

Managing partner Rohit Kochhar said in the press release: "This is an unprecedented and historic development as Kochhar& Co is the first law firm from the Indian subcontinent (and in fact also from the continent of Asia) to have procured a licence from the Dubai Legal Affairs Department of the Ruler's Office to practice local law in the UAE."

Mr Kochar explained that the rationale for the move has been the rapid growth of the Indian ex-pat community, which has led to many of them assuming senior decision-making roles in multinationals and UAE-based firms in Dubai and across the UAE. The reasoning is that they will be attracted to the idea of using an Indian-owned firm for their corporate business.

This plan is in contrast with some of Kochhar's other foreign ventures. For example, when it announced the establishment of the Tokyo office, the company pointed out it was not to help Indians located in Japan, but to assist Japanese customers carrying out business in India. As such, it was created with one Indian lawyer to help provide advice and knowledge relating to Indian law, and would not be practising Japanese law.

All this has been made possible by the firm's strong reputation, having won a string of awards in recent years. For instance, in 2012 it picked up the DealMakers Award in the "Law Firm of the Year -Tax - India" category, the IFLR Asia Law award for best "PE Deal of the year" and the title of Overall Law Firm of the Year : India in the 2012 Acquisition International M&A Awards.$0 $0It hopes to now enjoy similar success in the UAE.


 

Criminal complaint by FIFA follows World Cup fiasco

Football's governing body FIFA has managed to get itself in enough hot water down the years, not to mention hot summer temperatures when it comes to the controversy over what time of year the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be staged. So it is no surprise that when actual lawyers get involved, the problems worsen.
The initial corruption probe into the bidding process that led to Russia being awarded the 2018 tournament and Qatar the following edition seemed suspicious to many at the time, with Fifa president Sepp Blatter eventually agreeing that matters should be probed.

Unfortunately for FIFA, all has gone wrong after American lawyer Michael Garcia set out to compile evidence relating to various allegations concerning the bids. Last week, German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert delivered not the full report, but a 42-page summary, which conveniently said that while not everyone or everything was squeaky clean, nothing happened that was so bad as to alter the potential outcome of the votes.

Such a verdict was likely to be criticised anyway, but Mr Garcia then appealed against the summary, claiming his evidence had been badly misrepresented.

Now facing huge pressure, Zurich-based FIFA has decided that Switzerland's finest lawyers can handle this one; it has made a criminal complaint to the Swiss authorities.

A FIFA statement said: "In particular there seem to be grounds for suspicion that, in isolated cases, international transfers of assets with connections to Switzerland took place, which merit examination by the criminal prosecution authorities. "

The reports compiled by Michael Garcia and Cornel Borbely will be made available to the Office of the Attorney General via Hans-Joachim Eckert.

"Unlike FIFA bodies, the Swiss criminal prosecution authorities have the ability to conduct investigations under application of criminal procedural coercive measures."

Of course, it could be that this is a cynical attempt to bury the issue in the depths of the Swiss legal system for a conveniently long time, or shine a spotlight on someone who wants to bring Mr Blatter down. However, it may be that lawyers in Switzerland can use the powers to go further than FIFA noted to turn the spotlight onto areas where some would rather it did not go. Where Mr Garcia was unable to succeed, it may be one of his Swiss counterparts will.


Keeping Women In The Workplace: Is Freezing Eggs The Answer?

Maintaining an appropriate work life balance has long been a struggle for women particularly in sectors such as law and finance. Given the time constraints associated with motherhood, many professional women have been forced to make the choice between furthering their career and starting a family.
In trying to give women greater freedom to avoid such a stark choice, businesses must be careful to avoid creating a false choice instead. Keeping women in the workplace because they genuinely want to be there is fine, keeping women in the workplace when they would rather be mothering children could backfire spectacularly.

Freezing Women’s Reproductive Eggs
Recent news stories have highlighted a new initiative that is being developed by tech companies which may render the choice between motherhood and career a thing of the past. Facebook has introduced a scheme allowing female workers to freeze their reproductive eggs while they are at a critical stage in their career. They could then access these eggs at a later date when their professional development has plateaued. Motherhood would in a sense be postponed until a more opportune moment.
While the practice of freezing semen and embryos has been available for years, the ability to freeze women’s reproductive eggs has traditionally proven more elusive. In 2012 the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) reached an important breakthrough in oöcyte cryopreservation (egg freezing). It stated that the process had advanced to such a stage that egg freezing was possible and that the technology should no longer be considered experimental.

Delayed Pregnancy
This is undoubtedly an important development and represents good news for women whose fertility is affected by health issues or medical treatments. Yet it is important to stress that the ASRM report explicitly did not endorse using the procedure as an elective method to delay childbearing.
Despite this, innovative multinationals have embraced the idea very quickly. Facebook offers the procedure as part of its health insurance plan and Apple has announced that it is to follow suit. These companies offer up to $20,000 to cover the procedure and the subsequent storage of the eggs.

The Pros and Cons of the Egg Freezing Proposals
Facebook are not obliged to offer so much money to an employee for an elective procedure so, to a certain extent, this new initiative is generous. As a result, employees have the option of a procedure that would potentially not be otherwise financially viable for them
Yet it is important to examine who actually benefits from egg freezing; sceptics suggest that the major benefactor would undoubtedly be the company. It can ensure that workers in the most energetic period of their lives can give 100% focus to their jobs and it could potentially save a significant amount of money on maternity leave payments.
 
There are also ethical concerns at play. Does such a provision increase the pressure on women to delay motherhood? Also if they delay too long, they may feel that they lack the energy to be a suitable mother, ruling out the possibility of starting a family altogether.

If Facebook really wanted to help working women, would it not have been more effective for them to increasing maternity leave and improve childcare facilities? On the face of it this new policy may appear favourable to women in the workplace but in reality it may turn out to have a negative effect, resulting in their work-life balance being tilted heavily in favour of their employer.

Maintain a Focus on Choice
Freezing embryos could help keep women in the workplace by giving them more choice and choice is usually a good thing. However, an ability to postpone motherhood through artificial means could easily become a pressure to do so if women begin to perceive that it is weighted with corporate expectations, competitive forces or peer pressure. The suggestion that women should postpone motherhood for the sake of their careers could then carry an implicit message that those who do not will be disadvantaged.
Businesses offering innovative solutions to age old problems must take great care in how they implement them. For specialist advice about balancing the demands of advancing careers and motherhood contact [].