LAW FIRM Minter Ellison late last year made moves to distance itself from its Bangkok office, and three Thai partners who owned a majority of the firm. Lawyers Weekly can now reveal the details of the complicated split and efforts to acquire a team of top lawyers from a London firm.
In a series of emails sent by Minter Ellison partners, which were leaked to Lawyers Weekly and The Australian Financial Review, what became a sour relationship between Minter Ellison partners and three former Thai partners is made clear.
As the firm attempted to “one track negotiations to exit [two of the] Thai partners”, which was reported as being a result of financial performance, it was also engaged in negotiations to capture an “A team” of lawyers from London Magic Circle firm Freshfields, the leaked internal emails suggest.
In one email, between partners Craig Carracher and John Oakes on 14 September 2004, it is suggested that the firm “stick to our deal” regarding the Thai partners and “recommit to the ‘deal’ substantially agreed and confirmed in June with our partners, assuming what has been put to them already has not undermined that beyond providing to them a clear warning that we will see through the disengagement process if pushed”.
Meanwhile, the firm had ongoing negotiations with an “impressive” “A team” at Freshfields (FF). The same email states that “we have dealt with our Thai partners now” and that “FF have delayed beyond every expectation”.
“I acknowledge we made commitments to FF in the early phase of negotiations. However, we have dealt with the partners (reduced their cost base and will have KPIs on their performance to address, at least in part, their concerns). I would add that the FF delays are now exaggerated and I think a consequence of that is our amended approach with our partners.”
It is stated that “If FF does not proceed and if we have already compromised ourselves with the Thai partners and they do not accept any overtures on conditions to remain with the firm then at the least they are mitigating the value of their claims against the firm. We will need an agreed spin on their departure”.
The Magic Circle lawyers appeared to be looking favourably on the opening opportunity in an email dated 1 July 2004, and were “extremely appreciative of the interest you have shown and look quite positively on the possibility of joining Minters with our team”.
The Thai partners in February this year revealed their dissatisfaction with the firm’s treatment of the matter in a letter to all the partners at Minter Ellison, claiming they “have a right to know what has actually been going on in Bangkok, not merely that there have been ‘some changes’ which grossly understates the current situation of Minter Ellison’s Thai operations and the factual circumstances which have caused the current situation”.
“Our dispute with Minter Ellison is the result of a massive deception carried out by the management of Minter Ellison,” the Thai partners, Michael Shain, Kulkanist Khamsirivatchara and Suttiphat Khamsirivatchara wrote in February this year. They argued their dispute with Minter Ellison is not about financial performance, as suggested in some media reports.
The Thai partners’ email was attached to a selection of media reports and emails between various partners at the firm, including Carracher and Oakes. It is noted in their email that Minter Ellison management had terminated their employment with MET (Minter Ellison Thailand) and “repudiated our agreement with the Minter Ellison partnership”.
“We have accepted that termination by resigning from our employment with MET effective 23 December 2005 while reserving our rights under applicable law with respect to our termination,” the email read.