Gordon Brown and the law firm that got tricked

So, yesterday the revelation that London law firm Allen & Overy was tricked into handing over details from Gordon Brown’s file by a conman working for the Sunday Times (subsequently clarified by Allen & Overy).

“The question is how on earth any major firm could be ‘tricked’ like this?! Did they hire an impressionist?” tweeted journalist and Midsomer Murders fan @JohnHyde1982

But is it really so amazing that lawyers were tricked? From my experience, lawyers – who’ve often spent their whole lives institutionalised, going from boarding school, to boarding school-like Oxbridge college, to boarding school-like big law firm – aren’t always the most streetwise. (Although, as Allen & Overy head of PR Campbell McIlroy has just pointed out to me, in this case it was a support staff member who got conned).

I was more surprised that a City firm like Allen & Overy, which usually advises corporations rather than individuals, was acting for Brown. Then Legal Week reported they were only involved with him indirectly (via adminstrators Arthur Andersen) which makes more sense.

In the past, though, City law firms used to regularly act for big name public figures. Drawing upon my overly developed knowledge of legal trivia, I recall hearing that Allen & Overy made its name advising King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis of 1936 (with Theodore Goddard, which is now Addleshaw Goddard, on the other side for Wallis Simpson).

Other good law-related stuff on phone hacking:

The Lawyer editor Catrin Griffiths on her long running puzzlement – since resolved – at the fact leading media lawyer Keith Schilling had no voicemail on his phone.

Richard Moorhead in Legal Week: Hackgate, where were the lawyers?


Some interesting comments on my Guardian column about lawyers’ clothes this week – revealing, amongst other things, a united loathing of dress down Fridays.

Auntie Bee summed up the prevailing sentiment: “dress up or dress down just puh lease save us from casual fridays.”

I’m with you Auntie Bee. Pre-ordained fun occasions = not fun.

The inspiration for the column was a piece by Vivia Chen, who writes the Careerist blog which is published by the American Lawyer magazine.

In it she quotes William Urquhart, founding partner of the international law firm Quinn Emanuel, as saying: “We take casual dress to a whole new level. The only dress code we have is that you to have something between your feet and the carpet–and that’s because our insurance company requires it!”

Note the ever-so-slightly tragic explanation mark – highlighted in a subsequent piece by Jay Shepherd in the US blog Above the Law. Shepherd also mentions a good story about another big law firm that has taken the opposite approach to Quinn Emanuel.