lawyers blm

'Is..is this how you do it?'


Lawyers in private practice are not just thinking about Covid. They are also engaged in the culture wars, and with a few weeks left to enter the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 Survey, it's clear that staff feel strongly about both the direction their firms have taken on progressive matters, and whether it is heartfelt.

The Trowers & Hamlins (joint 4th in FOTY 2020) management team was "very responsive to the difficult conversation we have had following the brutal murder of George Floyd and the BLM movement", said a partner at the firm. "We have devised a Race Action Plan which has been approved at board level and we have signed up to the Race Fairness Commitment". 

The partner said there was "slight frustration" that "the people who bring in the fees get more ratings than the people who work hard maintaining our culture!"

But another Trowers partner suggested it was not entirely clear why Trowers needed to go to action stations over a death in Minnesota, commenting, "it's all getting a bit woke lately, in common with everywhere else, I suppose". 

Macfarlanes (9th) was also praised for addressing race matters. Following the death of George Floyd, the firm asked broadcaster Afua Hirsch to deliver a series of talks "that were incredibly well attended", said a lawyer. Over 400 staff joined one zoom call, and "you'd never get that many people to come to a physical lecture at lunchtime!"

Conversely, a junior solicitor at Baker McKenzie (47th) was "disappointed by the firm's slow response to the George Floyd tragedy", which had a "huge impact on several colleagues". However, she said the firm "noticeably stepped up" once "this lack of response was called into question". In June the firm posted a repudiation of racism titled, ‘We are not neutral’.

"Wokeness abounds", complained an exasperated senior solicitor at Burness Paull. There were, she said, "Constant exhortations to please answer questions about whether my gender identity is the same as my gender assigned at birth".

Some respondents said that certain lawyers were only paying lip service to social justice causes in order to raise their profile and shore up their otherwise perilous standing. 

A "fully woke" lawyer at Debevoise & Plimpton "likes to spend her days posting on LinkedIn about how great she is", alleged a colleague, who said that pre-Covid "she went to every conference going, virtue-signalling away".

It isn't just individuals attracting criticism. Firms have also been dragged for espousing support for progressive ideals without fully convincing staff it was genuine.

Womble Bond Dickinson (21st) was described by one of its lawyers as "a minor public school white boys' club hidden by a barely visible smokescreen of box ticking wokeness". A colleague agreed that "we pretend to be very woke but the reality is very different. We embarrass ourselves by trying to be something we are not given most of the firm is Newcastle based".

Clifford Chance (joint 26th) was "a little bit too focused on identity politics", according to one respondent, who said it was "remarkable how despite the LGBTQ/BAME/gender equality pushes by the firm, all of our trainees seem to still be the exact same (super polished, public schooled, Oxbridge, rich parents, gap years, work experience with daddy at Goldman Sachs etc)". That person may not be completely convinced, then, by the firm's move this week to remove gendered language from all its documents, as a means of challenging unconscious assumptions about gender roles, and "recognising that not everyone identifies as male or female and some people are non-binary/non-gendered".

Other firms' staff suggested that management risked creating a rod for its own back. "The focus on CSR, D&I and other cultural initiatives feels hubristic", warned a Linklaters (42nd) lawyer. 

"They say and promote all the good things one expects from a modern progressive firm", said a lawyer at DAC Beachcroft, but "fail to ensure it is really implemented. I'm talking about gender pay gap, lack of BAME representation, too many posh/wannabe posh twats everywhere".

A lawyer at Freshfields (48th) complained that sex scandals had forced the firm to adopt a progressive puritanism. "Once, I'm told, there was such a thing as a culture at Freshfields. The Beckwith scandal killed it, apparently, which is why every post-deal drinks or ski trip or party is now heavy with the fetid scent of fearful partners and every three days we are all ritually chained up and dragged to another woke Being Freshfields flagellation-fest".  

But other lawyers said their firms were capable of threading the needle. "I know that we are known to be very 'woke'", said a lawyer at RPC (joint 26th), but "in practice that actually means that people respect each other".

"It's worth mentioning that the firm has an active group of diversity champions on race, gender and sexuality/gender identity", said an employee of Shoosmiths (12th), where the calendars "even include notifications about special commemorative days (e.g. Monday was Barbados Independence Day)".

A Quinn Emmanuel lawyer offered an alterative perspective. "One mustn't underestimate what is blissfully absent", he said. "Pigeonholing people into token BD and recruitment initiatives by their gender or race, endless internal emails and...talks about the next virtue-signalling project". He submitted his entry before Quinn's diversity debacle.

A lawyer at Hogan Lovells (joint 26th) praised his firm, but criticised the theory that institutions must be assumed to be inherently racist and in need of affirmative action, particularly as his experience was that Hogan Lovells was a terrific place to work for a person of colour. "Virtue signalling nonsense needs to stop", he said.  

"As a mixed race individual, I find the concept of race quotas deeply offensive. The colour of my skin has, to date, never impacted my career and nor should it. The idea, therefore, that I would be promoted, not because of my quality, but because I am a bit browner than the next person along, is a personal insult, undermining the years of hard work put in by everyone at the firm, including me. HL is not an institution with issues of systemic racism - stop insulting everyone who works here by treating it like one". 

Fiery stuff. Keep it coming, take the survey.

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Comments

Anonymous 11 December 20 08:40

Plenty about sex and race, nothing about age and age discrimination.  Not a word.

Lydia 11 December 20 08:52

The long term culture of many of us is that of equal opportunity. The Catholicism of my mother and her ancestors  for example supported those values almost back to the time of Christ and probably before that. So all this is nothing much new to many. You can be pink, blue, one legged or even from my mother's Sunderland and if you are superlatively good at the work you should get on and if firms don't allow that then they will damage themselves.

However there does seem to be a current doing things for the sake of it thing going on, but if that works then let firms do it. Some of it is getting over the top again just as in the 1970s I think it was when a London council banned the nursery rhyme baa baa black sheep etc  and we used the term PC not woke. These things come in waves and ebb and flow and probably have since my Neanderthal ancestors bred with homo sapiens.

It is not a time for people to express contrary views on any topic as we live in McCarthyist times. Careless words cost careers.

As my mother would say - If in doubt, say now't.

Anonymous 11 December 20 09:18

As always the pendulum swings too far. Being pushed aside in pitches as a white male in favour of female colleagues explicitly because they have the right chromosones and the need to flatter a virtue signalling GC is not the way forward. While it is right to support balance and diversity across the firm, I hate to think the hours spent naval gazing wondering what the correct proportion of LGBTQ+ in the post room should be.  Interestingly there's never an attempt to increase the diversity of the HR department by recruiting useless overweight men for balance. 

Anonymous 11 December 20 09:54

None of it matters unless you have social mobility underpinning your commitment to D&I.

A firm can have as many female partners or as much BAME representation as it likes, but if they are all over-privileged, private school-educated offspring of rich folk it is rather missing the point.

 

Father Time 11 December 20 09:56

There seems to be a hierarchy for how discrimination is viewed and treated. Age discrimination is at the very bottom of the pile. At my shop still typical to see partners and leaders laugh it off and join in. We need to get a few young people, I mean juniors, involved in this.

Switch age for race and it'd be like we're back in the 70s...

 

Anon 8:40 11 December 20 10:07

I'm pretty sure that there's a pretty big pay gap in favour of older people in law firms and to be frank we've all worked with that one "partner" who is semi-retired, does very little work but is still coining it in the equity.

Anonymous 11 December 20 10:17

Identity politics only takes you so far. Inclusivity is about so much more than race.

Father Time 11 December 20 10:26

@ 10:07

I wonder whether older people in law firms are always partners/well paid?

Is it possible that you might get an older person in a support role?

In any event, does it make any difference how much they're earning? How much more would you have to pay a person to legitimize exposing them to racist behaviour?

 

Palloma 11 December 20 10:43

Firms brought in diversity and inclusion people for some brand appeal, now they are beholden to them - see every new Managing Partner this year falling over themselves to set out their diversity and inclusion credentials.

It's a new orthodoxy which claims that diversity of people represents a diversity of views which helps the business. The problem is they promote diversity and inclusion of a narrow set of views.

They doesn't tolerate diversity of views, or people, if they are deemed the 'wrong kind', ie those that diverge from being uncritically in favour of 'woke' policies and aims.

As a result, there are a lot of lawyers who are now effectively gagged. They are too worried about the consequences to their career to pipe up, because the D&I people are embedded with HR, and they have seen even the equity fall over themselves to get in line. Who on a partnership track at CC would raise their hand to ask why they need to remove gendered language to appease people who have decided they are neither male nor female? We like our wages, which is fair enough.

But it means 'diversity and inclusion' is becoming doublespeak.

Keith Miles 11 December 20 10:55

Father Time (and others) 

I was thrown out of a Magic Circle firm on my 60th birthday, (before age-discrimination legislation came into play) - "you're old, you're out".   I then had a couple of part-time pre-OAP jobs in two-partner firms in the sticks - where we were all treated on our merits. irrespective of wokefullness, and where I was happier at work than I had been for years
 

Ugly Dumbling 11 December 20 11:39

All this talk of race, gender and sexual orientation is great but when are the firms going to stop hiring almost exclusively gorgeous, sexy and intelligent people. 

I suffer from poor aesthetics and my brain doesn't work as well as other people's. These are immutable characteristics and not enough is being done for me and people like me.

Ugly dummies rise up! 

rumpypumpyesq 11 December 20 11:58

Anon 09:54 and others re: social mobility are 100% correct.

The issue is a societal one. At a good deal of firms, the racial makeup mirrors that of society yet given the profession/size of firm that marginal number (3% for example re: black solicitors) seems too small. And yet a firm can only deploy so many practices to increase representation. It cannot control school districts or college/uni admissions to RBG/Oxbridge. And I think that's why the rat race to champion as many D&I initiatives and targets comes off a bit OTT.

New Dawn 11 December 20 11:58

Agree with my Womble colleagues. The board have gone tick box crazy but that is all it is, tick box. They bombard us with how woke they are and BLM and how pro women and pro being different wether that is race, gender, background, disability, illness or just different. But the board are clueless. All talk. Their levels of self delusion are embarrassing. Trade descriptions act anyone?

rumpypumpyesq 11 December 20 12:00

I'd also like to raise that BAME is a bit of a smokescreen term. 

Firms can hire all the privileged Asian talent they like from Oxbridge and elsewhere and still claim to be hitting those diversity targets. Discrepancy between what it says on the tin and what the true 'diversity' picture inside some of these firms look like. That's based on my student experience of going through the assessment centre/VS rounds this past year.

Rusty 11 December 20 12:22

Tick boxes and educating and training people to do and say the right thing isn't really going to change hidden attitudes.

One only has to look at social media comments to see how unpleasant people really are to each when they feel safely anonymous behind a keyboard.

Anonymous 11 December 20 12:52

I work at one of those new types of woke firms.

The truth is we wheel out a BAME employee as the face of the firm when the truth is they comprise a tiny percentage of the workforce. Even the BAME employees feel uncomfortable being asked to write "inspirational" stories about their "journey into law". One of my friends from Hong Kong wrote a blog stating he had an easy ride due to his wealthy family sending him to the best schools and enjoying the best privileges - unsurprisingly that didn't get posted on the intranet!

Anonymous 11 December 20 13:19

Heh, I bet HR had kittens seeing that 12:52. Sudden awareness that wealth might be a factor, followed by even quicker denial. Delete! Delete!

Anonymous 11 December 20 13:32

It's an interesting thing to watch, people complain that this stuff is all skin-deep 'wokewashing', but don't seem to realise that that's a natural consequence of obliging people to play along with a set of social conduct rules that they don't actually believe in.

Then, whenever someone breaks cover and admits that they aren't 100% convinced by the logic of Wokeism and the theatre of implementing it in the workplace, and they wonder if perhaps it's undermining rather than promoting meritocratic promotions and/or creating new divisions rather than breaking down old ones, the people keenest on the concept use that as an opportunity to punish them for speaking a heresy rather than an opportunity to persuade and convince them of the logic of the cause ("There can be no tolerance of intolerance!", "If you are not anti-racist then you are racist! No neutrality!" and a black mark goes on your HR file for failing to respect the 'inclusive' environment, etc).

So of course you end up with a corporate culture in which everyone knows that they just have to go through the motions in order to 'get on', and in which people know they can only express dissent when they are among likeminded friends. It's the only possible outcome of the strategy used to implement the culture - it feels forced and hollow because it's hollow and forced.

But the people forcing it still scratch their heads and wonder why it just never feels natural. How are the continued beatings failing to improve morale?

The Trumpster 11 December 20 13:37

oh dear Wombles how you going to spin this one? Get your trainees out blogging?

Anonymous 11 December 20 13:48

Importing an American social theory into UK work environments wholesale was always going to throw up awkward contradictions. We share a language, but culturally we aren't massively similar to the USA. So it's not surprising that some people find this stuff grating and nonsensical, because it just doesn't translate.

Like, good luck convincing 'Random White British Associate' that 'Random Indian Heritage Associate' is a victim of structural inequality in the workplace and wider UK society; when Statistically the Indian associate is more likely to have had a wealthy upbringing and to be destined to end up earning above the average UK wage than his White British counterpart. The idea that there is a structural inequality issue there is simply impossible to sustain in the face of established facts - and trying to erect a working culture that rests on a foundation of imported US social theories that insist there is, is unlikely to lead to a structure that stays standing when subjected to the inexorable gravitational forces of reality.

And that's just the first example that springs to mind - next up you have to find a way to thread the 'structural inequality' theory through the awkward fact that Black Britons of Nigerian heritage perform well above the national average at school and then again in attaining professional employment, whereas Black Britons of Caribbean heritage perform well below (as a statistical cohort - there are no doubt individual exceptions). What's the complex set of structural prejudices operating to boost Nigerians while simultaneously holding back Caribbeans? Has the white patriarchy given the Nigerans some kind of secret handshake? Critical Race Theory can't say, it just wants you to stop asking awkward questions and assume that 'Black' people all automatically have it hardest. 

But the whole theory just starts to unravel in the UK when you actually look at the facts rather than operating on broad prejudices that merely assume the existence of racism in the country at large.

Anonymous 11 December 20 13:50

@rumpypumpyesq.

Care to explain why BAME is a smoke screen term and what 'true diversity' should mean?
Last time i checked an asian from the far east or south east asia werent classed as caucasian.

EQT Trainee 11 December 20 13:55

13.37 when did you learn that? Please help me to find out where I can educate myself.

Anonymous 11 December 20 19:06

group disparities in ability 

So is it a disparity in ability that makes so many public school kids end up at Oxbridge and working in the law or is it that they have an advantages from one or more of monied parents, better education and social contacts in the profession.

If you're given a 3-0 lead before the game starts then it doesn't make you're team better if they end up winning.  

Anonymous 11 December 20 22:45

Spot on to the user who mentions social mobility. 
On first glance, Brodies in Scotland look as if they’ve done well on the D&I front based on their recent intakes having a handful of BAME trainees and NQs (trust me, a couple of non white faces is considered progress up North). However once you look a little closer at their backgrounds it’s obvious  that they are all privately educated. 

Fake Partners 12 December 20 02:06

How many times am I going to have to read stories from female lawyers on LinkedIn about how they were so badly treated by some old white guy.....and I'm thinking: This. Never. Happened. Just the other day some female lawyer posted a story on LinkedIn about how when she worked at Kirkland & Ellis she walked into the room to take the deposition of a "world renowned damages expert." The witness was earnestly discussing strategy with his counsel in the room....he turned to her and asked her if she could get him a coffee. She kept listening to their discussion for a bit and then said - "I'm here to take your deposition" and of course he turned white as a ghost. Yes that's right folks! I graduated law school in 2003 and even then their were more female graduates in my class than men! This is not 1955. She expects us to believe that an expert witness who has been deposed so many times he is "world renowned" would be surprised to be deposed by a woman these days?! Absolutely ridiculous and just not believable. Stop posting these fake virtue signaling woke stories. Nobody is buying your bs ladies. 

Anonymous 12 December 20 10:21

My firm Brabners love virtue signalling. They must be the least diverse firm going. All but two of the proper partners are male, pale and stale (the two exceptions are white and female). They’ve created all of these committees to try and show they are making changes but it’s prime virtue signalling. 

Anonymous 12 December 20 22:26

Large City firm. Apparently next year will bring pronouns on emails and no more “Dear Sirs”. Rudeness and passive aggressive emails from clients are ignored not challenged; good staff are hired from large regional firms but paid less than homegrown peers; trainees are carbon copies of the previous year’s intake and will brazenly pass off a paralegal’s work as their own, but sure, putting “he/they” in email signatures will change everything. How could it not?

Sleepy 13 December 20 02:20

If I had as many bollocks as are commented whenever RoF posts a diversity item, I wouldn’t be able to count how many children I have, much less know what gender they all were

Not Jonathan 16 December 20 01:43

The comments section for any rof article that mentions anything about diversity or someone being harassed is always toxic.  It genuinely makes me concerned - is it just a small group who comment every week, because it's starting to seem like most of the legal world?

As a woman who has been repeatedly harassed and seen it happen to others too (at previous law firm and yes I fought back physically, yes by more than one person,  yes management were fully aware of these things and even then refused to acknowledge the problem even promoted the cun* to equity, yes I was a high performing associate and since been promoted at new firm not some serial whinger or loser not that it should be relevant) it's more than depressing to constantly see comments from people who may even be colleagues suggesting any allegations or concerns about equality are essentially bullshit.

I also directly observed certain partners discriminating during interviews and promotions (both firms, likely not intentional, but very obvious to anyone under 30 e.g., accent as an example of bad 'fit', which automatically discounted several BAME, or specifically taking appearance into account for women re BD).

Class 16 December 20 13:15

@ Not Jonathan 16 December 20 01:43

"any rof article that mentions anything about diversity or someone being harassed is always toxic. It genuinely makes me concerned"

"I was a high performing associate and since been promoted at new firm not some serial whinger or loser"

...please tell us more about serial whingers and losers

 

sheila 16 December 20 17:55

big lol the comments on the Wombles white public school boys. The board act like they are on the set of The WEST WING all plotting behind each others backs. Most of us can see it but it is so cringeworthy they think we can't. If I was their mother they would have red legs from me!

Outwards looking in 17 December 20 03:52

This has been an incredible year for lighting the fire under the seats of the old guard. Yes, many of the actions taken by firms were pure virtue signalling or, at best, had good intentions internally but ended up looking quite insincere. But at least some people are talking about inequality in what is traditionally an incredibly elitist profession. Despite all of this, grad recruitment is still basically cookie cutter, sexism is still rife and many people face a maze of glass ceilings. Social mobility issues are a major hurdle that is preventing real progress.

I moved here from North America just over a decade ago and I was amazed (and still am) at how engrained the class system is. The UK is usually near the bottom, if not THE bottom, of social mobility metrics when compared to other western democracies.

If meritocracy was the only metric considered, perhaps this country would be relevant again.

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