Clarissa Coleman & David Speakman of DAC Beachcroft On The Changing Role of Investigations Lawyers

Chancery Lane Chats

23-11-2021 • 27 mins

Clarissa Coleman moved straight into litigation on qualifying. As well as several other positions, she spent 2 years in-house as Head of Litigation at Consensus Business Group (CBG), the property investment firm owned by businessman Vincent Tchenguiz. Today she’s a partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation and Disputes group at DAC Beachcroft’s London office.


“Litigation is different. It's a different mindset. It's about clients and people and every case is different. The facts are different, the stories are different. It's constantly challenging and different and exciting.”


David Speakman is a senior employment law specialist based at DAC Beachcroft’s London office too. He has considerable experience advising on contentious matters before the Employment Tribunal and High Court, regularly advising on high-profile disputes and discrimination issues.


The dawn raid


During her 2 years as in-house as Head of Litigation at CBG, Clarissa dealt with multi-million pound commercial disputes and a high profile dawn raid and fraud investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, following the collapse of Kaupthing Bank in Iceland.


“I dashed into the office. I'd done some dawn raid training. And, as expected, everyone totally ignored all my training. So I was the only one who followed my own training.”


Clarissa co-ordinated the response on the morning of the dawn raid and arrest of Tchenguiz, and planned the subsequent judicial review against the SFO, which later dropped its investigation and settled with Tchenguiz for an undisclosed amount.


Reputation management


After the raid, there were 1,350 negative press articles about Vincent and his brother, meaning PR was vital to him getting his message out there that he wasn’t in the wrong.


“When we were planning our strategy, one of the biggest issues was an allegation of conspiracy between Vincent and his brother, because it's very hard to disprove allegations of conspiracy.”


The SFO put their warrant together so quickly, it was full of mistakes and misinformation, and this was key to getting the press onside.


“Bringing the press onside and working within the power of the press became an important part of our strategy and actually meant that the SFO had to drop all their charges.”


Whistleblowing


David was involved in a very high profile case himself, an employment whistleblower case. Dr Kevin Beatt was sacked by Croydon's NHS Trust for whistleblowing over concerns about patient safety.


“I think it's a really important case about whistleblowing, clearly, because it went to the Court of Appeal and has now confirmed the law on whistleblowing. But I think it is really important as a tale to explain why an investigation into the underlying issues is vitally important.”


Problems arise because so many people use whistleblowing as a way to raise a grievance or a difficulty, making it a very contentious and complicated area.


Wider cultural influences on the UK workforce


The workplace isn’t just somewhere you work, it can be extended to any time, anywhere you’re with work colleagues, even in a social context. When you’re with work colleagues, there’s a certain standard of behaviour that just isn’t acceptable. Employment law supports this and sees the workplace as being far wider than just the office.


“The #metoo social media phenomena means that people feel empowered to speak out. Whereas 20 years ago, people felt they couldn't speak out, because they would have been blacklisted for their career.”

DAC Beachcroft multi-disciplinary investigations department


“We realised as a firm, that we've got a huge amount of investigators experience and a huge amount of litigation experience, but also that that experience is in a lot of cases, quite specific, as well as generic.”


Their team is currently speaking to schools, to independent schools, universities, and carrying out investigations into sexual misconduct in schools.


“We take a strategic approach. It's a bit like the Vincent story again. You don't just follow a path, at the very start, you take all the expertise you have as a firm and look at this question and say, ‘What is the best way to approach it?’ ‘Who has the real skills that can deal with this?’ ‘Can we think outside the box a little so that we can provide solutions?’”


Discussed in this podcast episode:


  • The dawn raid
  • Reputation management
  • Think about privilege from the outset
  • Whistleblowing
  • The FCA’s 6th question on D&I
  • Career advice for new lawyers


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