DLA in the soup over ‘wicked witch’ label for ex-client

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Regulator called in after data retention disclosure unearths embarrassing emails

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Global mega-law firm DLA Piper learnt yesterday that no matter how big you get, the modern world can jump up and bite you in the bum. Not only that, it can happen right back in your old hometown.

The firm — which has outposts in 30 countries and is reported to have turned over nearly £1.57 billion last year — has been reported to the professional regulator for describing a former client as a “wicked witch” and dancing on the grave of his bankrupt business.

At the crux of the tale is Steve Wilkinson, a Sheffield businessman involved in project to develop local baths in the city. At one stage he instructed DLA, which can trace its pre-global behemoth roots to Sheffield in the guises Dibb Lupton Broomhead and then Dibb Lupton Alsop.

But the tables turned. Wilkinson stopped instructing DLA and then the firm ended up on the other side in bankruptcy proceedings against the entrepreneur.

When those proceedings finally went against Wilkinson, several DLA lawyers let rip with years of pent up hostility towards the ex-client. Foolishly, they did so in writing.

According to The Times (£) newspaper yesterday, Wilkinson has reported the firm for disparaging internal comments about him after the bankruptcy finding, including an email from former partner Roger McCourt, who is alleged to have written: “The wicked witch is dead”.

In response, according to The Times, Duncan Mosley, who is still an insolvency partner at the firm, is alleged to have e-mailed:

Just made my day, Roger. Think I’ll take a wander up the road for a spa treatment at the Turkish bath suite and see if they stock any champagne to enhance the experience further.

In the old days — when the firm was still Dibb Lupton whatever — that exchange would have been conducted in the partners’ lavatories, over the gold-tapped washbasins.

But in the modern technological world, email is dangerous, not least when correspondence must be disclosed following requests under data retention legislation.

A DLA spokesman told The Times that the “comments do not reflect the standards or values of the firm or the individuals that made them.

These comments were made about an individual who, over a period of seven years, heavily contested court proceedings involving our client, but ultimately failed and judgment was made against him.

The statement continued:

He also made many disparaging and abusive statements about our personnel. We regret that the frustration caused by such circumstances was reflected in the language used about him in some internal emails between colleagues.

Meanwhile, the Solicitors Regulation Authority told the paper it would not comment on ongoing investigations.