Problematic bonanza!

Of course law is the only thing that really matters, but in 2022 the rest of the world insisted on pursuing other interests like culture wars, actual wars, and Suella Braverman, all of which punctured the peace of our legal idyll. Selfish!

Fault lines were exposed when Russia invaded Ukraine. While some firms pinned their yellow and blue colours to the mast, others stayed silent (Ince urged its lawyers to hold their tongues). Firms including Harbottle & Lewis, CMS and Carter Ruck were shamed in parliament, then the US, for having acted for censorious oligarchs, while another firm was caught working for a sanctioned Russian.

Complicated questions around the right to obtain legal representation received strict answers, and twisty stories worthy of a Cold War thriller emerged. Ogier was compelled to keep working for a sanctioned bank against its will, which must have made client meetings awkward. Posters criticising a lawyer for his alleged links to Russia were revealed to be the work of a fraudster with a long-standing grudge against the solicitor in question.

Amid the gray, there were a few black and white narratives. Like the partner who said that, compared to Ukrainians getting bombed, associates never had it so good. And the lawyer who recommended launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Punchy.

The vexed issue of sex and gender proved to be almost as incendiary. On one side: those who believe only females can be women, and that for the sake of their comfort and safety they should be entitled to single sex spaces. On the other: those who believe that males can also be women if they identify as such, and should be treated accordingly.

Some lawyers professed scepticism about their firms' embrace of policies which promoted gender identity at the expense, they believed, of the realities of biological sex. In an anonymous poll, 80% of 1,300 respondents said they had concerns and thought it would be too risky to raise them at their firm. 13% said they did not have concerns, and that such policies promoted inclusivity.

Allison Bailey wasn't too shy to speak up, and the lesbian barrister successfully sued her chambers (but not Stonewall) for discriminating against her in connection with her 'gender critical' beliefs. On the flipside, a transgender law graduate was found to have been discriminated against by an NHS Trust in an eye-opening case.

The Race section of firms' EDI policies also got a good thumbing-through this year. A red-faced lawyer apologised for blacking up as Mr T at the office party, another defended donning blackface while at Stephenson Harwood, and an HFW partner was sent for diversity training when the Race & Ethnicity Network left promotional chocs on people's desks and he joked, "I'm presuming they don't have Milkybars".

None will be on the SRA's shortlist to solve its race issue: the regulator admitted it was struggling to understand the dismal pass rate for ethnic minority candidates taking the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination.

Various events including the World Cup ensured that disparities in the values held by the Middle East, the West, Muslims, Christians, and [insert all other categories here] remained prominent throughout the year. A DLA Piper lawyer was removed from his role as a government advisor as a result of intra-Muslim protests over a 'blasphemous' film, while Baker McKenzie split from its top man in the UAE over his anti-gay tweets, triggering a furore in the Emirati legal sphere.

2022 saw about 16 prime ministers file through No 10, and most readers will already have memory-holed Suella Braverman's optimistic bid to become PM, and the doubts cast on her CV by a barrister with whom she once worked.

The Queen's passing made more of an impression, and once again lawyers were well-represented. Foreshadowing protests against Xi, a barrister with republican leanings was quizzed for objecting to the new king with a blank sign, while a law firm boss incurred royalist wrath for her 'business as usual' response to the monarch's death.

Rounding off a year of protest, Eversheds Sutherland was targeted by Extinction Rebellion. Instead of gluing themselves to a masterpiece of drafting, freely available in the firm's precedent bank, the climate change warriors chucked fake oil over the windows. A missed opportunity.

Congratulations for staying put through all the most awkward family dinner topics: reward yourself by rating your workplace in the Best Law Firms To Work At 2023 survey, below.

Check out the rest of the 2022 review:

Firm fun


Heroes and villains

Showbiz, show-offs and Bonkers Websites


Judges and barristers

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