DLA Piper partner fined for offensive email exchange with Premier League client
Nicholas West, partner of international law firm DLA Piper, has been find £15,000 by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (‘SDT’) for engaging in lewd and offensive emails with a representative of his client, the Premier League, in a case in which the line had been blurred between the solicitor and client's and social relationships.
Mr West’s conduct came to the attention of the media and DLA Piper in 2014 when a former employee of the Premiere League leaked email exchanges dating back to 2012. Following an internal investigation by DLA Piper, a number of further threads were uncovered. The investigation noted that the original leaked emails were ‘exchanged between friends and accessed without permission’ but recognised that ‘there was a failure to meet the high professional standards’ in which the firm takes pride.
After further investigation, the SDT found that some chains were written in a professional context rather than a personal one, for example in relation to prospective employees. The emails contained phrases such as ‘foetus shopping’ and advice to ‘save your cash in case you find some gash’. However, perhaps the most contentious point was the use of ‘Klunt’. The SDT rejected Mr West’s argument that this word related to a creature of the same name in Ricky Gervais’ book, Flanimals. Instead, taking into account the use of ‘kluntilicious, klunty and kluntastic,’ it was held that the emails were quite clearly sexist and offensive.
Mr West made an application for the content of further emails not to be published, citing that it was not in the public interest to do so. This was rejected by the chair of the tribunal, Andrew Spooner. Mr Spooner went onto comment that the content of the emails was ‘despicable’ and that Mr West had flouted Solicitors’ Regulation Authority Principles 2, 6 and 9 and failed to achieve Outcome 2.2 of the Code of Conduct. Mr West had failed to encourage equality of opportunity and respect for diversity through these emails and this had resulted in his integrity being undermined and the trust placed in him and his provision of legal services diminished. Mr West had carried out this course of conduct utilising his business email account and it was therefore likely that assistants to the parties, and perhaps fellow colleagues, would see these exchanges. Mr West’s representative stressed that he was responding to communications rather than the instigating them, whilst accepting that it was not an excuse for his behaviour.
Mr West was sanctioned to a fine of £15,000 and ordered to pay £12,000 in costs. The SDT commented that the misconduct was aggravated by the repetitive and continued nature of the communications, however this was not so serious as to justify suspension or striking Mr West from the roll.
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