Ajay Malhotra

My journey After studying Philosophy and Literature at university, I wasn’t sure what my next step would be. I had considered following a career in law, banking or management consultancy among other things. But, after attending a Herbert Smith Freehills presentation, my decision was made. I liked the people I met, I liked the sound of the work and – even though I come from a more conceptual background academically than most of my colleagues – it related well to what I had studied. From Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ to Plato’s ‘Republic’, to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the concepts I covered and the skills I developed transferred well and allowed me to approach our work from a different perspective.

My future focus

Making sure we are the firm clients call first in a crisis.
Helping clients respond to a crisis involves going far beyond the traditional role of a lawyer. You need to advise on protecting your client's reputation, its financial position, its relationships with government bodies and politicians, its employees and a whole range of other issues. We’re already market-leading lawyers with a broad range of specialists. My focus now is on bringing them together to help guide our clients through their crises.
My difference There was a high value, extremely high-profile case I was working on shortly after I became a senior associate and my client wanted to settle the dispute but the other side had made some unreasonable demands. My advice to was to threaten to withdraw from settlement negotiations and set out all the arguments we would be deploying if the case went to court.

This was a risky move. The other side might have called our bluff and we might have lost the opportunity to resolve the dispute without a risky and costly trial. As strongly as my judgement told me that was the right approach, there was always a niggling feeling that it would all go wrong and everyone was pretty nervous. In the end, our approach made the other side compromise, and we were able to get the best outcome for our client.

​​​​​​​That episode reminded me of advice that a senior lawyer had given me during my training contract to question everything but to back my judgment once I had reached a conclusion. I had made a difference to my client in one of the biggest issues it had ever faced, and I had learnt a valuable lesson.

My case

On 14 September 2011, UBS discovered that one of its traders had been hiding trades from the bank's systems and had amassed concealed losses of $2.3 billion. This was the largest unauthorised loss in British banking history. The bank immediately called HSF to guide it through the crisis, even before the story had broken to the press. HSF interviewed the trader that night and advised the bank on what followed over the next 15 months – which was a huge internal investigation, a regulatory investigation, a criminal trial (and appeal) and a US class action lawsuit.

I was involved in the case from the start. The immediate task at hand was to find all the relevant documents and interview the witnesses involved in the case. This enabled the bank to know what had gone wrong, who was involved and what it needed to do to rectify the position. I was involved in preparing for or conducting many of these interviews; and I managed a large team of lawyers who were reviewing emails and chat conversations to find evidence.  When the trader pleaded not guilty, a criminal trial became inevitable. My role on the trial was to prepare dozens of witness statements, manage the process of disclosure to the Crown Prosecution Service, and to attend every day to report back to the bank's board of directors. I worked on this case full time for around 15 months and so knew every detail of how the fraud took place.

After a 10-week trial at Southwark Crown Court, Kweku Adoboli was convicted of two counts of fraud by abuse of position. The size of the losses, the intrigue of the story and the fact that it was the first major trial of a banker after the financial crash meant that there was a huge amount of press coverage around this case. As I was on the Tube going home after the final day of the trial, I remember every newspaper carrying a picture of the trader on their front page.

Shortly after the trial we assisted the bank in settling enforcement action taken by the financial services regulator.  A US class action lawsuit was filed but the bank successfully argued for dismissal. The trader appealed his conviction and sentence to the Criminal Court of Appeal, but this was dismissed as well.

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