One of a group of partners to recently resign from prominent Queensland mid-tier Nicol Robinson Halletts (NRH) — after attempting to have the firm dissolved — was involved in a series of controversial incidents, one of which led to him skipping a conference because he was drunk, it was claimed last week.
NRH managing partner Robert Gallagher lifted the lid on a number of startling occurrences in the lead up to an internal split that has seen partners David Jenkins, Jonathan East and Jason Warat tender their resignations.
In documents lodged with the Brisbane Supreme Court earlier this year, Gallagher claimed:
• Moves were underway to sack Jenkins for a series of conduct incidents including: abstaining himself from a partners’ conference because he was drunk, disobeying specific directions regarding training and supervising staff and breaching various firm policies.
• Jenkins, Warat and East applied to the Supreme Court to dissolve NRH in August 2003, only weeks before the story became public.
• Their action has been adjourned “indefinitely” and they subsequently resigned.
• The trio was leaving because they unsuccessfully attempted to get a larger slice of NRH’s profits.
Jenkins did not return calls from Lawyers Weekly for comment.
Despite the resignations, Gallagher maintained a “business as usual” approach was being observed at NRH. Rejecting earlier reports in Lawyers Weekly that other staff close to the trio had also quit, Gallagher said he expected any losses to number about 20 — half the amount Jenkins had earlier claimed would peel away.
“The teams who work with the three departing partners have indicated a willingness to go with them, but nothing has been resolved with those staff yet,” Gallagher said.
When the split became public in September, Jenkins said the defectors were split between setting up their own practice or moving en masse to one of the rival firms “waving huge cheques” at them.
Gallagher, however, rejected the latter claim by stating that there is “really no evidence of any bidding war by other firms to secure the services of the departing partners. They are still negotiating to find a new home.”
Court documents quote the primary cause of the split as strategic differences between the departing threesome and continuing partners. Gallagher described Jenkins as “an advocate of success measured by a singular emphasis on fees” and rejected any suggestions that NRH was struggling for profits.
The managing partner claimed Warat and East, the firm’s two youngest partners at 32 and 33 respectively, each earned well over $400,000 in 2002-2003.
“A result very few partners in Brisbane would achieve at that age,” he added.
Pursuant to the terms of their partnership deed, the trio are bound to continue working at NRH until 10 March 2004. But provided the two factions can negotiate a “sensible” deal an exit date could be arranged “sooner rather than later”, Gallagher said.