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Anuj Agrawal and Pallavi Saluja
Whoever said that the CAM versus SAM rivalry had died was wrong. Very wrong. This is just one of the inferences that can be drawn from the petition filed by one Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas against the firm’s former Chennai Partner, Dorothy Thomas, who has joined Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.
Not only does the petition make a number of allegations against Thomas, including the extraction of confidential files, but reproduces Whatsapp records of groups allegedly made by a “senior leader of a rival firm”.
The groups are named “Dorothy Team” and “SAM Joinees”, one of them was created in the last week of September, according to the petition. But more on that later.
If the contents of the S.9 petition are to be believed, in May this year there was talk about closing the Chennai office with Thomas carrying over as an independent practice. The annexures to the petition also hint at the fact that the Chennai team was not being paid prorate bonus, were denied appraisals as well as arrears. The annexures to the petition also point to the possibility of gross mismanagement at the Chennai office, and the fact that the CAM management had decided to close the Chennai office due to poor performance.
As far as Thomas’s own future plans were concerned, on September 9 this year, sources had indicated that Thomas would be setting up an independent practice. Less than a month later, Thomas and her team of eleven lawyers submitted their resignation letters. According to the petition, the contents of all eleven resignations were identical in nature.
Which is where the Whatsapp conversations come into play in the petition.
When Bar & Bench contacted, SAM Chairman Shardul Shroff, for his comments, he said, “Neither I nor Samco are party to any proceeding. Any allegation that I or Samco have incited anyone or anything is entirely false. The facts and circumstances which prompted an en masse resignation from Camco are certainly significant and would become known if matters are not settled between the two protagonists.
He added, “At this point of time since there are ongoing settlement talks between Camco and Dorothy anything I say will not be appropriate nor helpful.”
According to the petition, CAM’s allegations tally with the unverified records of the Whatsapp conversation reproduced by them. One of the conversations, dated September 29, indicates that the resignation letters were sent to the “rival firm” for vetting. Not only that, but the contracts of engagement were also sent to Thomas and her team on September 30.
Furthermore, the WhatsApp records (reproduced in the petition) over the days that follow show that Thomas had the tacit agreement, and even guidance from the “rival firm”. The chat records not only show how the resignations letters, and the fresh SAM engagement letters were discussed, but also reflect how Thomas and her team had no intention whatsoever of complying with any notice period.
Apart from reproducing the unverified Whataspp conversations, it is the allegations made against Thomas that are more damning. As per the petition, Thomas and her team had “unauthorisedly stolen/extracted/downloaded” confidential information. In essence, the petition alleges that her team had moved case files, CDs and the like from the CAM office.
According to the petition, things came to a head on October 4, the day after the mass resignations were sent, when Regional Head Arjun Lall, and Bangalore Partners Rashmi Pradeep and Arun Prabhu found out that Thomas had “wholesale removed the files” from the CAM Chennai office. Expectedly, a flurry of e-mails and legal notices followed, with allegations and counter allegations.
In an e-mail sent to Cyril Shroff, Thomas initially claimed that she was unaware of the very contents of the partnership deed, and that her agreement with Amarchand Mangaldas terminated following the dissolution of the firm. This was dealt with by CAM in no uncertain terms, with the firm sharing photographs in the petition showing Thomas signing the partnership deed, and an invitation to inspect the said deed at any point of time.
Thomas also alleges that at a meeting on September 15, she was browbeaten into running the Chennai office as an independent concern. Once again, Thomas claims that her team was not getting appraisals and revised compensation packages.
Speaking to Bar & Bench Thomas says that she would have worked with CAM her entire life.
“We were sincerely working with Cyril but it was his unilateral decision to shut down the Chennai office that started all this. He gave a proposal for independent practice, which was very one sided. The MoU proposal talked about huge sum for office/deposit and a lot of money had to be paid to buy out the practice, which is not possible for fee earner like me. We had to look for an option B.
Just because we are moving to SAM, what is the harm? Shardul had set up his office two months back but he didn’t poach us. We moved only because the office was shutting down.”
Not only has CAM in its petition alleged that Thomas has “extracted” confidential information, but that she and her team also tried to solicit clients, requesting them to switch firms. To this, Thomas says that most of the files relating to litigation were handled by another CAM lawyer.
“[This CAM lawyer] was part of the team which was moving to SAM and had been given the offer letter. However, he was negotiating for few more lakhs and a better designation, which SAM did not match and he backed out and moved back to Cyril.”
Which is when CAM filed the S.9 petition seeking, inter alia, a prohibition on Thomas from soliciting clients for a period of three months, as is mentioned in the partnership agreement. In addition, there is also a prayer for restraining Thomas from joining any “competing firm” till January next year.
Although this petition is expected to be settled by tomorrow, the contents of the petition somewhat reveal what transpired between Cyril Amarchand and Dorothy Thomas.