Interesting what happens in the quiet of January.
With legislation the way it is today, most particularly the Privacy Act, one of the greatest fears of any business is waking up to find that information, documentation or other data has been lost, stolen, misplaced or inappropriately/unexplainably been replicated by another party. Let’s face it Julian Assange has now been held up in a London Consulate since 2012, for issues surrounding his organisations publishing of documents released by other parties, potentially without authority.
With that background it remains almost incomprehensible that one of the largest professional firms in the world would use as a defence in the non-production of documents that they had been removed by persons unknown, at a time unknown and in a manner unknown from their custody and thus were no longer available for production. Further to divert down a separate path, for an organisation no doubt known for its leadership in paperless environments, that backups of the majority, if not all of the documents should exist, and thus be restorable! Well, and then, yes deliverable to the court. However what is even more astounding is that the electronic records have been encrypted and password protected so as to not allow the firm access to its own electronic records.
True they may not exactly be client documents but their own. and yes it may relate to actions against the firm itself but really in the modern world can such claims really be made? Apparently so.
The size of the organisation has much to do with the stance taken; if it was attempted by a minnow the authorities would have pounced within seconds, and professional futures would have been called into question almost instantaneously. Not so for the majors.
It is interesting just considering how clients of such firms consider the situation at hand. In the event that the same circumstances occurred to this Firm then most of our clients would be seriously concerned about the relevant security of their own information, and thus our suitability as an ongoing adviser may well, if not definitely be called into question.
From a different angle maybe the clients are seeing this as a great call, reasoning “my adviser is willing to step over the professional line to protect my interests, even if it makes them look stupid”. I remember once being told by a very senior Andersen’s partner that “there was not a company on this planet big enough to bring this firm down!” That was thirteen years before Enron; the rest is history.
Regardless of the circumstances the facts will continue to unfold in front of us all. At least it’s comforting to know that in the interim firms with such professional standards remain preferred providers on all government maintained lists of recommended providers. Regrettably firms with higher standards generally do not find similar standing.
Possibly one day the government will be happy that their files too have “gone missing”!