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Russian clients may be dropped by city firms following Ukraine invasion

As the war in Ukraine intensifies, leading UK firms are considering dropping Russian clients as attention is directed on the legal profession’s links to the country.

Several UK firms have offices in Moscow and other Russian cities and – despite there being no inclination they have done anything wrong – pressure is increasing for professional services outfits to cease all links with the country.

However, the Law Society has backed firms representing Russian clients, and especially those trying to ensure UK government sanctions are lawful. 

Stephanie Boyce, Society president I. said: ‘It’s the job of solicitors to represent their clients, whoever they may be, so that the courts act fairly. This is how the public can be confident they live in a country that respects the rule of law – unlike Putin’s tyrannical regime.

‘Solicitors are highly regulated and are not allowed to bring spurious objections to processes – if they challenge the government’s actions, it’s because they think the government is at risk of breaking its own rules.’

A White & Case spokesperson announced: ‘We are reviewing our Russian and Belarusian client representations and taking steps to exit some representations in accordance with applicable rules of professional responsibility.

‘Our Moscow office is open and continues to operate. We are complying fully with all applicable sanctions, and we continue to closely monitor this rapidly evolving situation.’

A spokesperson for Baker McKenzie noted: ‘With offices in Moscow and St Petersburg, we are reviewing and adjusting our Russia-related operations and client work to align with all applicable sanctions and comply with these fast-evolving laws.

‘We do not comment on the details of specific client relationships, but this will mean in some cases exiting relationships completely.’

A statement from Linklaters stated: ‘The situation in Ukraine is deeply distressing and our immediate thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. We’re actively monitoring the situation and working to ensure the safety and support of colleagues and their families. We’re also reviewing all of the firm’s Russia-related work.’

Edward Sparrow, the chairman of City of London Law Society said: ‘The City of London Law Society condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an egregious breach of international law and of the international rules-based system, both of which underpin our peace and prosperity. The CLLS stands ready to assist HM Government in its response to Russia’s actions. All sanctions applied by the UK and our international partners should be complied with in full.’

In a briefing to MPs for attempting to hold up the sanctions process, foreign secretary Liz Truss has critiqued law firms. She commented that the government should ensure these measures were ‘legally watertight’.

It has also been reported that prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson stated that Russia should be treated ‘like a pariah state’, and that support from City law firms, accountants and banks should not be given to the Russian regime.

However, Labour MP Justin Madders announced to Truss this week that: ‘No matter how distasteful we might find it and how damaging it might be to those law firms’ reputations, even oligarchs are entitled to legal representation because that is part of what makes us a free and democratic society.’

He stated that ‘the best way to deal with these issues is to ensure that the laws are watertight in the first place’, further noting that the government should have ‘the best, most expert lawyers available to ensure that no loopholes can be exploited’.

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