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Dentons Is Investigating Partners Accused of Polygamy and Terrorist Ties

Vivia Chen

February 10, 2020

Hands-4519047_1280When you run a law firm as gigantic and far-reaching as Dentons, which is now the largest firm in the world (home to 10,000 lawyers in over 70 countries), complaints about the misconduct of partners and managers of any given office inevitably take on a local flavor.

Such is the case with Dentons’ Riyadh office in Saudi Arabia.

In early January, I got a long email, complete with exhibits, from an anonymous source who claimed to be part of Dentons’ Middle East practice.

This tipster had two major complaints. The first was that the Riyadh office is run by men who are polygamous and that, more disturbing, they marry and divorce impoverished, young women at will, essentially using them for short-term sexual relationships, the source wrote.

As a result, the source claimed the culture of the office was anti-women. As this source wrote to the firm last fall: “This can have a really bad effect on the ladies,” adding that women there are scared of the men.

The other allegation this tipster makes is arguably even more alarming: One of Dentons’ partners in Saudi Arabia allegedly has ties to Islamic extremism. Included in the email were exhibits of an article for Cage, a controversial Islamic organization, that was allegedly authored by one of the partners. In the article, the author called Americans “blood thirsty” and predicted the killing of Osama Bin Laden would lead to the destruction of America.

Though the article’s author and the accused Dentons partner have identical names and both are British lawyers, Dentons says the partner has denied writing the article. (RollOnFriday wrote its own account of Dentons’ investigation Feb. 7.)

The upshot to all these mind-spinning charges? Dentons is taking it seriously. So seriously that the firm has hired a global (not local) firm to investigate the Riyadh office. In fact, Elliott Portnoy, Dentons’ global chief executive officer, is personally and directly involved in an investigation.

The firm issued this statement: “Promptly after receiving an anonymous communication containing allegations against certain personnel in our Saudi Arabia offices, we attempted to engage with the anonymous sender and initiated an investigation of the claims. Our efforts to engage with the sender of the anonymous communications have not been reciprocated. We take any allegation of violations of the law or Dentons Global Code of Conduct very seriously, and we have undertaken a thorough investigation of the claims involving both internal and external resources, which is ongoing.”

Which leads to this intriguing question: How do you impose a global code of conduct on a firm of 10,000 lawyers scattered over 70 countries? And can such far-flung offices with their distinct local cultures be expected to abide by a uniform code?

While I am totally sympathetic to the women who voice concerns about working for men who practice polygamy, I’m not quite sure what can be done about it—especially because polygamy is not illegal in Saudi Arabia. Of course, Dentons can make a big, bold statement and only hire men who seem more supportive of women in their private lives, but is that realistic? As one U.K.-trained lawyer of Pakistani origin located in Riyadh told me, “I’d say 50% of the partners here are polygamous.”

Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting for the results of the investigation. I mean, who isn’t curious about whether Dentons is harboring a partner with terrorist sympathies?

Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com

On Twitter: @lawcareerist

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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