Vanessa Ford.

The death of a Pinsent Masons partner has ignited a debate on stress and work/life balance in private practice.

Vanessa Ford, known professionally as Vanessa Heap, had been working 18-hour days and through her holidays to complete the sale of Everton FC to a private equity firm.

On 23 September 2023, just over a week after the deal completed, she “consumed a significant amount of alcohol while undergoing an acute mental health crisis”, concluded coroner Ian Potter, before going onto the tracks by Dalston Lane road bridge where she was struck by a train.

The inquest heard that the Pinsents equity partner had attended a celebratory lunch in Manchester the day before her death to mark the completion of the transaction, and spent the night at the home of her friend, Katie Charles, Everton’s legal services director, before catching an early train back to London on the 23rd.

Ford returned home that morning while her husband and children were out and left a note before leaving with a bottle of gin.

The coroner said there was “no doubt” that Ford had taken her own life, but said there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude that she fully intended to do so.

A toxicology report showed that Ford’s blood alcohol level at the time of her death was “incredibly high”, and she also contacted a private health care provider in the hour before her death to seek help for alcohol consumption.

The coroner said that in the months prior to her death there were “a number of stressors” in Ford’s life, but she appeared to have “found it difficult” to discuss them.

Her husband, wine educator Oliver Ford, provided a statement to the inquest which described his wife as “the perfect person to be around” who was “good at everything”, including being a lawyer, a mother and a friend.

He said that she “worked very hard to satisfy all her responsibilities” and that he had “never known Vanessa to work so intensely” as she had on the Everton matter, which he described as “all-consuming”.

Ford felt “intense guilt” as the deal entered the crunch period, he said, because it prevented her from being able to spend time with her children, while holidays were interrupted by long work calls.

Ford’s father’s death the year before had also “upset her deeply” and she had not had a proper opportunity to grieve, he said.

Pinsent Masons’ finance and restructuring group head, Matthew Morgan, told the inquest that Ford had not raised concerns about stress or work/life balance at work, and “Nobody had any concerns around the pressure that Vanessa was under” as a result of the Everton deal.

“She was very positive”, he said, and she had referred to the Everton deal as “the best work she’d ever done” when speaking to a colleague.

Morgan said he did not spot a change in Ford in the period preceding her death, and although some colleagues noticed she was thinner, the coroner said her weight loss could have been attributed to the partner deciding to walk more to increase her daily step count.

Morgan described the Everton deal as a “once-in-a-few-years transaction” and said that while the long hours Ford worked were not “unheard of”, it would be unusual for people to work under such pressure “non-stop”.

In a statement, Pinsent Masons Managing Partner Laura Cameron said, “Vanessa was a much-loved and respected member of our firm, and we remain deeply saddened by her death. The inquest proceedings and conclusions were distressing to hear for all that knew her, and of course especially for her family and friends still grieving her loss”.

Addressing the focus on work/life balance at the firm, she said, “We work in a profession where balancing work and family life can be difficult and presents challenges – particularly for working parents. We want this to be an ongoing conversation with colleagues to ensure we are doing everything we can to support our people”.

“Across the legal industry – and more generally in society – a stigma around mental health persists and this is challenging to address. With vigilance, refreshed support measures and ongoing dialogue, both internally and externally, we will seek to make positive and lasting change”, said Cameron.

A spokesperson for Pinsent Masons told RollOnFriday, “We think it's important to engage with our people to make sure the changes we make are appropriate and genuinely serve to make a difference. Thinking beyond the firm, we have, for example, client forums and membership organisations that we have reached out to with a view to starting important conversations”.

Pinsent Masons' work/life balance is fairly typical for a large firm, according to its lawyers, who gave their opinions on the subject as part of RollOnFriday’s Best Law Firms to Work At 2024.

“The hours aren’t US-level, but when the pressure is on you’re expected to put in the hours”, said a male senior associate. “However, when it’s quieter you can enjoy the downtime”. 

A female partner said her work/life balance was “As good as it can be when you work in M&A, so not great, but that is basically [an] occupational hazard”.

A junior solicitor said a typical work day at Pinsent Masons “is 0830 to 1900”, while a senior female solicitor said the work/life balance was “the best thing” about the firm. “I rarely work past 19:30 and have never worked a weekend in 5 years there. It’s probably as good as you can get in private practice”, she said. 

However, another female senior solicitor said “[I] regularly work until the small hours trying to juggle a family”.  

The impact of long hours and work pressures as factors in Ford’s death has brought renewed attention to work/life balance across private practice and prompted both an outpouring of sympathy for Ford and frustration around a lack of real engagement with the issue.

Browne Jacobson partner Anja Beriro warned that, “if we don't sit up and take notice, the legal profession will fall off a cliff. Not only are more senior lawyers burning out, Gen Z, and for sure Gen A, just won't do it in the first place”.

One of many solicitors commenting on LinkedIn, she said it was “scary that these issues aren't more visible" and said "it's incumbent on the profession to put more safety nets in place”.

Haynes Boone partner Emma Russell agreed that the tragedy was an “example of how no-one really knows what is going on for someone both personally and professionally". 

She also highlighted the stress and guilt that parents feel. "The pressures of being a parent and the pressure of this job in several sectors are almost impossible to manage”, said Russell. ”I see it as real issue for my generation both male and female in senior roles in this industry.”

“This absolutely breaks my heart”, said a senior litigation associate at Clifford Chance. “As a mother and a lawyer I completely get the guilt and the pressure of trying to do it all."

"For my part I think I’ve seen a real shift post-Covid/ working from home becoming a normality", she said. "There’s obviously huge positives from a flexibility standpoint but we are also all so much more ‘on’ and available than I had seen previously in my career."

"So many of us have been there before working ridiculous hours, lack of sleep, constant stress and not eating properly", said Jessica Cumming, a senior NHS lawyer, on LinkedIn, adding that she was "So glad I got out of private practice.”

Matthew Buckle, an arbitration and litigation lawyer at Osborne Clarke, said it was “an all too common story, that law firms do too little to address in any kind of meaningful way. The guilt of which you speak is an issue affecting, and impacting the careers of, plenty of men too”.

DLA Piper partner Robert Purton agreed. “This is really sad, especially as it is still all too common - no matter what your gender - and highlights that it is high time that as a culture we adopt a far more Scandinavia approach to the work life balance", he said.

“Wellbeing/mental health initiatives/EAP schemes will not prevent further tragedies like this”, argued Michelmores’ marketing director Louise Edwards. “We need organisational change and a seismic shift in approach from leaders in our sector.”

“If anyone is working 18 hour days over a sustained period, concerns should be raised over their welfare. We must do better to care for our colleagues and stop expecting unsustainable ways of working”, said Freeths partner Alison Ogley. 

“I know how much I've struggled in the past working horrendous hours, 16 hour days (minimum) 7 days a week for months on end", said Ogley. "Not one of my colleagues at the time asked if I was OK. Instead I felt like I still wasn't giving enough and wasn't good enough."

“There is always someone at the top too removed from the reality and practicality of what it takes to get a deal done in short order pushing the deadlines (usually someone getting a bonus or promotion off the back of it)”, said Browne Jacobson partner Kay Chand. “The only way to change it is to say no. If enough of us say no, then surely it will change?”

“This is enormously sad”, said Shakespeare Martineau solicitor Heledd Wyn. “My training partner used to say that if you couldn’t do your job in 9-5 allocated work hours you were doing something wrong. Now, the reality is that to ‘get ahead’, working daft hours and never being ‘off’ has [become] part of the narrative - there is a real pressure to succeed and to succeed you need to hit metrics that mean there is no way a 37 hour week cuts it. Where’s the balance?”

Others who knew Ford expressed their grief alongside a desire for change. “This is not acceptable”, said Tim Brookes, legal director at Field Seymour Parkes. “I had the privilege to work with Vanessa at Osborne Clarke, and she was the shining light of her generation (with apologies to her cohort!)”

“This is so sad. I knew Vanessa a couple of firms back - she was wonderful”, said Patrick McCann, director of learning at Linklaters. “We as a legal industry need to do more to prevent this ever happening again.”

The profession may have a way to go. Other lawyers recalled wishing for an accident so they could escape the relentless pressure.  “Oh my gosh I have had that fantasy!!!” said a Watson Farley Williams partner. 

“I remember clearly when working on a very stressful case (almost 20 years ago now), fantasising about being hit by a car/bus - not enough to kill me but to take me ‘out of play’ for a while”, she said. 

“I was working all hours and the partner definitely wasn’t (!). I felt without direction, support and was dealing with a very difficult client. The stress was so intense I could not see a way out”.

If any readers are struggling, please consider calling LawCare, the mental health charity for the legal sector, on 0800 279 6888. 


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Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 08 March 24 09:10

Surely a law firm can track the hours people work? 

18 hour days on holiday should set off alarms 

Anonymous 08 March 24 09:11

Law firms need to wake up to the fact that this issue will be forever embedded in their DNA and it needs to be as proactively managed as "client service".

The recipe is fairly simple: take a load of conscientious high-achievers, put them in a hierarchical structure where advancement is very largely tied to amount of work done, have them log every minute of their day and reward them with bonuses calculated solely on the basis of minutes logged, tell them that delivering for the client is the only thing that matters, set ridiculous deadlines which you know will be almost impossible to meet, (as the Browne Jacobson partner notes) encourage the real winners in this structure to push these ridiculous deadlines...and hey presto you have a mental health crisis.

The short-sightedness is astonishing. 

Anonymous 08 March 24 09:16

Pinsents are all talk when it comes to mental health but they take action too, so I hear. By bullying and managing out the lawyers who are brave enough to put their hand up, recognise the issue and ask for help. Managers see the signs all right and they view it as a weakness.

How many more? 08 March 24 09:27

The denials by Pinsent Masons and Matthew Morgan that they "didn't know anything was wrong" is utterly disingenuous. You would only have needed to look at the sheer number of billable hours, and when they were being recorded (on holiday for example) to have know there was something wrong.

anon 08 March 24 09:29

Did anyone else find the huge amount of LinkedIn posts about this this week to be in extremely poor taste? Far too many seemed to me to be from people with businesses that are adjacent to this (e.g. professional coaches) with a sense of "you see I told you the billable hour was bad now like/comment/subscribe". Or that this proved their long held view that private practice is unsustainable / law firm culture awful etc etc

I mean they may be right but still

Think of her family and her colleauges reading that stuff

Nonny 08 March 24 09:35

A really sad case 

Change seems needed. 

Anyone who contacts a colleague on holiday about work, or expects them to work whilst on holiday, should be struck off

Warren 08 March 24 09:36

Poor poor woman and her family, rip.  The focus will inevitably be on long hours, but my own experience was that long hours and the rewards from success were actually a means of gaining self-esteem which was helping me cope with underlying mental health issues stemming from historical trauma.  Her work practices were likely another symptom of an underlying problem that led her to take her own life, not a cause of it.  

Roscoe P. Coltrane 08 March 24 09:39

Pinsent Mason said, "Nobody had any concerns" when she worked 18-hour days through holidays. Really? When this time was recorded and reported to the other equity partners they were probably too busy rubbing their hands and high-fiving at the thought of sharing in these profits to be concerned. Perhaps lawfirms should act when a lawyer records too much time, because they have shown the ability and willingness to act very fast when a lawyer records too little time.

Anon 08 March 24 09:45

The key is to move offshore. I did. The hours are much better, because you do none of the substantive work; that is all undertaken by the onshore lawyers, and we are just a post box. Sure, it’s a tad humiliating and I readily acknowledge that I and other offshore lawyers are at the very bottom of the professional pile, but we won’t end up burning out.

8 PQE yes man 08 March 24 09:45

The industry is full of partners who promise to deliver work with unreasonably short deadlines when it is totally unnecessary. The "high pressure" is so often self inflicted and trickles down.

Assuming a single fee earner, if a job is going to take 50 hours to complete then there are the following options:

1. Promise it in two days which is literally impossible, miss the deadline, annoy the client, and seek an extension. Work product is low quality because it's rushed and done whilst tired and stressed.

2. Promise it in 3-4 days. Work under ridiculous pressure. Work product is inevitably of low quality since it is being done by somebody who is operating on minimal sleep and is stressed out.

3. Promise it in 5-7 days. Work under reasonable conditions. Work product is of decent quality because the stress and tiredness factors aren't in play.

I've worked with so many partners who promise options 1 and 2 despite the client saying "oh a week turnaround is fine". If partners were honest with their clients then most would select option 3 every time - i.e. they would rather have good quality work done by sharp attentive lawyers and get their advice a few days later.

Anecdotally, when a trainee I worked on a deal and the target completion date was being discussed at an early stage - literally just arbitrarily picking a date out of the air. The Japanese client suggested 25 December and the junior partner's response was "yes - absolutely". The more senior partner chipped in that it was Christmas Day and people typically like to have that period off. The Japanese client apologised for not realising it was a holiday period and instead proposed late January. The one partner having the confidence to not just say "yes" to all client requests saved 5-10 people from a ruined Christmas.

Anonymous 08 March 24 09:48

I saw that on linkedin 9.29! And thought exactly the same. A load of grifty scumbags attaching themselves to the tragedy making sad noises while transparently working to drum up attention for their 'healthy working consultancy' or 'compassionate leadership workshop' or whatever. Distasteful.

Anon 08 March 24 09:49

Does no one think to proactively check on the welfare of people and actually apply a bit of critical thinking in that just because someone doesn't voice concerns themselves it doesn't mean they are in fact OK.  Often people don't feel able to raise concerns.   They are normally relieved when the people in organisations like HR who are supposed to check in and look after people you know, actually check in and look after people.  

Roscoe P. Coltrane 08 March 24 09:51

Perhaps GCs should ask lawfirms to provide information about the team's average recorded hours per associate and per partner and, if it's too high, hire another firm with less exhausted lawyers...

Anonymous 08 March 24 09:51

Agree that some people on LinkedIn are trying to take advantage of this tragedy.

The firm knew her hours. They don't appear to have intervened (feel free to correct me). 

A sad loss - with a young family left behind too. 

The job isn't worth your health. 

Anonymous 08 March 24 09:56

Sh*t really got real at my firm in the wake of this as they sent out a PDF detailing the mental health resources that were available and a checklist for signs things might not be ok. More mental health webinars are surely planned. Who knows what action they’d take if something happened here- they might even stretch to printing the leaflets and having the seminars in person. 

Anonymous 08 March 24 10:03

Management try to push for staff to do a short course as mental health first aiders to subcontract their pastoral care.

Anonymous 08 March 24 10:13

How do the Pinsent's leadership say with a straight face that they didn't have any idea of the pressures Ford was under? They way they passively speak about the stress they create for their staff and act like it's as natural as the wind or rain?


“We work in a profession where balancing work and family life can be difficult and presents challenges – particularly for working parents”.

No, that's not true, legal work doesn't need to any more or less challenging than many other careers that offer much better work life balances. I work in a senior legal & management role in a demanding and complex industry, have lots on my plate, lots of deadlines, some urgent, some not. My employer empowers me to say no when I need do, resources my team effectively, and gives me additional support for crunch periods when requested. End result - we have a motivated, happy, legal team and whilst stress levels do vary with ebbs and flows, they are low. None of this stuff is hard.  Lets re-write what Laura Cameron wrote above to reflect what what the situation actually is:


“We work in a law firm that, via how the leadership team practically treats its staff and partners, has  made a deliberate choice to make balancing work and family life very difficult”.


Come on Pinsent's leadership - step up and make some actual changes that count. Here are a couple of free ones from me:

Resource your teams properly,

empower partners to say no to unrealistic deadlines (and that partner knowing that have the full backing of Pinsents ExCo leadership in doing so), 

a genuine ability to speak up about stress without the threat of de-equitization or demotion.


Sus 08 March 24 10:18

The same partners and law firms that espouse about their commitment to promoting better mental health among their employees are also usually the same ones that allow the toxic working environment and practices to fester in the first place…

Anon 08 March 24 10:25

Pinsents should stand up and take some accountability for this.  Their response to this has been terrible.

I know someone working there, doing the same - working all hours despite a parent's recent death - and not once has their partner said STOP, you need to grieve, you need to take time.

Instead they continue to blast this person with work, who is naturally ambitious and wants to do well, so doesn't want any set back by saying no.

Terrible Pinsents. Shame on you. 

Wageslave2000 08 March 24 10:31

"We want this to be an ongoing conversation with colleagues to ensure we are doing everything we can to support our people"


So they'll probably do absolutely nothing, other than organising some shitty "mental health" workshop (which does not count for your billable targets btw ;)). Anything but addressing the real underlying factor: inhumane working hours, always online culture and an insane pressure to perform which causes burnout. 

papercuts 08 March 24 10:42

This is desperate.  Poor woman, and awful for her family.

I don’t know what the answer is, as workaholism is, if anything, on the increase, and not just in hourly-billing environments.    

Mhc 08 March 24 10:47

She was working 18hrs a day and through her holidays - Pinson Mason state they had no concerns regarding that. And there you have it. They didn't give a shitI


Anonymous 08 March 24 10:47

@ 8 PQE yes man 08 March 24 09:45 - think you have hit the nail on the head here. I have so often moaned to colleagues that pretty much any transactional deadline ultimately comes from somebody high up in the client pulling a random date out of thin air, or the variant of someone lower down the chain setting an arbitrary short timescale to try and impress someone who doesn't actually give a hoot. Litigation is obviously a bit different but even there, so much pressure comes from clients not appreciating how long things actually take and dropping requests way too late, and lawyers being afraid to be frank and say no to these things. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that as long as there is one lawyer left in the City willing to acquiesce to these sorts of stupid requests, there will be a risk of losing work over them, so it becomes a race to the bottom. 

Cynic 08 March 24 10:48

There is a reason why every single partner in a City firm is at least one of:

1. Childless

2. Married to a non-working or low-wage spouse, 

3. A parent whose kids resent them big time.

There are NO exceptions.

The only ones who can deal with the guilt of not raising their own children without suffering from mental health issues are typically narcissistic. They usually rise to the top quite effortlessly. 


Anonymous 08 March 24 10:50

Perhaps in-house counsels also need to be proactive. Having been in private practice for 20 years in the past, I am always conscious of setting realistic and achievable deadlines when possible and I have on several occasions when having to send work to a law firm on a Friday told the partner I do not want this first thing on Monday and I do not want anyone to work at the weekend on this. I was made to work whole weekends by clients in the past only for the clients to not revert for 10 days as they were on annual leave that week! Treat others as you would have wanted to be treated... Sometimes the work is very urgent, but often deadlines are completely made up.

Anonymous 08 March 24 11:04

There are some lovely people at Pinsents BUT there are some warped, egocentric, sociopathic partners too.  You have to be ruthless at all costs to succeed (or just in the right place at the right time).  RIP Vanessa. You and your family and loved ones deserved better than this from your employer.

But breaking the cycle might mean less profit 08 March 24 11:04

Vanessa's death is a tragedy for her family and nothing written here will be a balm.

It does shine a spotlight on a profession which is becoming less recognisable to many within its ranks. The high street lawyer looking at Big Law NQ salaries. The Big Law partners looking at their accountancy/US brethren. All of it looking more shiny than one's lot. The shiny making it all "worth it". And the SRA, the rabbit in the headlights, flailing to feel relevant so picking on those they perceive as sufficiently weak.

Which then leads to whether this is truly a profession. Capable of definition and regulation. Regulation of working hour time limits (do we all remember the actual waivers signed to exempt from the working time directive? The bit in the employment contract "from time to time" "needs of the business"?). Regulation of senior management and placing upon them a duty of preservation of people ("At XYZ LLP our main assets are our people"). Repute is in professionalism. Repute is in a work product arrived at by clear minds. Repute is in ensuring a safe, conducive and welcoming work environment.

It can be framed as a choice of people or profit. But I think that's blinkered. As we move towards greater integration of AI and process, the only differential will be the people. The firms who remember that they want to retain good people, see them into partnership, retire knowing the business is in safe hands will be those who flourish. 

Or does it need crippling negligence suits to force a change which is, to my mind, inevitable? 

To Vanessa's family I send my deepest condolences.

To others who may be struggling, there is no shame in asking for help. It is a strength and no-one will tell me otherwise.

To everyone in a position of authority, they are your colleagues, your friends and your strongest assets. It's on you to make sure they are in a good place. At its most venal, the assets will be better able to perform if their mental health is optimised; reducing time for supervision of basics and reducing the risk of a negligence claim.

Anonymous 08 March 24 11:08

The scary thing is, she was an equity partner and therefore presumably had the power to control her hours. Everyone including those who don’t have to be, is caught up in this insane treadmill where they lose sight of their own health.

A lot of the comments above are very on point: the private practice structure at too many firms relies on people who are willing to meekly sacrifice everything for the job. We all know the workhorses - often women - in the office who get piled up with work and because they don’t complain, partners think it’s dandy and carry on loading them up.

A key issue is that HR is empowered to carry out pride events, but not to do anything that might impact on billings. They are not empowered to have a truly pastoral role that involves being a check on the worst workaholic instincts of management. 

Firms need management that is on board with tackling work stress. In order for that to trickle down so there aren’t fiefdoms of beastings, the management also needs to give their HR function authority to chase people to actually take their holidays, to enforce uninterrupted evenings and weekends, and to recommend sanctions/rebukes for partners who breach those requirements for their teams. 

Anon 08 March 24 11:10

As a junior corporate solicitor I also used to regularly fantastise on my drive in to the office about being in a car accident (not enough to kill me but so I would be hospitalised) so I could escape the intense pressure of the 12+ hour days and constantly cancelling plans with friends and family. There was no ability to say no or ask for help. I look back with sadness, no person should feel that way.

I finally left private practice for in house, the final straw was being hospitalised with a serious bowel blockage and bladder infection. I hadn't felt able to take healthy bathroom breaks or drink enough fluid and meet the demands of the job and my body issued a cry for help. 

The partner extended me accomodations and allowed 'work from home' for my recovery period. At that point I was out and never looked back after moving in house where I found a work life balance I never thought was possible in law. 

Sympathy 08 March 24 11:11

My heart goes out to her family. Poor woman. I have been through the mill myself a few times when I was in private practice with crazy working hours that seem like they won't end and it does really really get you down and screw with your head. It's a lifestyle that we should all seek to avoid, it is clearly not worth it.

Family time 08 March 24 11:18

@ Cynic 10:48. Totally agree. I had a conversation with a partner who fell into category 3. Their opinion was that despite not being there for breakfast, dinner, bedtime etc. they were available for the "big stuff" such a birthdays and therefore were not failing their children. I know who I cared about attending my birthday when I was a child - those who were there on a day-to-day basis. I couldn't care less if some uncle I rarely saw attended my birthday.

Anonymous 08 March 24 11:20

As a corporate lawyer, in my experience, it is the institutional PE-type clients and especially the bankers/CF advisors who impose the most unreasonable timetables, which then causes the most stress.  Ironically, it was only during 2021 that many lawyers felt able to push back on those demands because they were too busy with other matters and the market seemed to understand (to some extent) that everyone was juggling a million things and that it might therefore take more than 24 hours to turn documents, etc.  It's hard to see the profession ever really changing though given that the US and MC firms tend to set the pace and there is no way that some of the partners in those firms will ever stand up to their clients.

Cynic 08 March 24 11:57

@Family time: I have heard all sorts of excuses - kids don’t really want to spend time with me, they only want mummy; I’m there for the ‘big’ events (as you said); I’m making it possible for them to lead a wonderful lifestyle; I don’t have patience to deal with kids and my wife is great with them so it’s no loss to them; it’s important I set an example for my kids that hardwork is important and also that you don’t always get everything you want in life.

I suppose whatever it takes to take the edge of that guilt. And maybe some don’t feel the guilt at all. And that comes with its own set of personality traits.

The irony is that every single person, from the lowly trainee to the senior-most partner is replaceable professionally. But to a child, a parent is irreplaceable. (In the vast majority of cases. We’re not talking about abusive parents here)

Anon 08 March 24 12:06

So sad to hear this news.

I worked for an international firm in the 00s.  I had a cancerous tumour removed from my leg.  I was made to come into the office 2 days later whilst i should have been recovering due to work pressures.  I recall blood trickling from my wound and still they did nothing.  Still horrendous place to work according to the ROF recent survey

Anonymous 08 March 24 12:09

Its a tragedy. I don't think her being an equity partner meant she had more very possibly meant she had more pressure on her to deliver and cause to worry about where the next big fee was coming from. Pinsents have a lot to answer for ! 

Punctuated Equilibrium 08 March 24 12:20

In Oz, they have added a duty to look at psycho social stress as a core component of their equivalent of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 - effectively modelling ISO 45003 into criminal law. The first prosecution? The Coroner's Service following a suicide of an employment solicitor who was bullied and overworked...

Turnip 08 March 24 12:44

This is utterly tragic but sadly things will never change unless the SRA/legislature passes some form of binding requirement/law forcing law firms to change.


The sad reality is that most non-high street firms expect you to work all hours required to get the deal/case done. If you raise any concerns then you're likely to be making yourself a target/be managed out. Even flexible working is being eroded with firms gradually reducing WFH entitlement to around one day per week - so not really that flexible at all.


I find the hand wringing from law firm partners on Linkedin quite aggravating as it's all talk about doing better but no one puts these words into meaningful actions.

Anonymous 08 March 24 12:52

People have to be responsible for themselves, particularly if you are a partner whose position is meant to be entrepreneurial and relatively independent. Everyone knows the deal and, although it sometimes feels like it, being paid exceptionally and holding a position where you can influence market terms and achieve meaningful career goals is not equivalent to prison - you can leave and should leave if you are no longer willing to accept that deal. Like all businesses, law firms do not care about you beyond your medium term capacity to make / save money, so do not expect them to look out for you beyond that (and really what can they do in a competitive market like this where people consistently complain about wanting higher salaries that can only be paid for through lean staffing and aggressive business models). Nothing will change as a result of this, the same as nothing ever changed as a result of the presumably hundreds of people before who have suffered stress related heart attacks at work, committed suicide (whether intentional or not) or harmed themselves or others as a result of being at breaking point. 

Anonymoose 08 March 24 13:01

As well as law firms, clients and tribunals need to take note as well. Grumpy judges setting unreasonably tight deadlines have a lot to answer for. 

Claire Saxon 08 March 24 13:55

Everyone forgets that these long hours in law are inherently sexist. Well capitalism is sexist, so why wouldn’t it be.

Women go through periods and menopause and hormonal changes - it’s proven they need an additional 2 hours sleep than men. Women bear children and raise them. Kids never stop needing their mom. They have to sacrifice breast feeding and being with their child.

The solution? Idk. But these man babies crying out that people are just ‘lazy’ - you just look extremely uneducated and embarrassing.

Anonymous 08 March 24 13:56

@Anonymous 08 March 24 09:10  Unfortunately, the default law firm culture is to worry about the hours you don't bill, not the hours you do.  Clearly this needs to change.

anonymous 08 March 24 14:28

Who can change things? General Counsel have some power.

When at ...erm...Pinsents ... I had a major client (a major US financial institution) whose GC inserted a clause in their instructions to law firms under which they would only ordinarily pay for 8 hours billable time per fee earner in any one day. Anything more would require a specific conversation and consent.

Transformative. Financial incentives are skewed away from, rather than toward, excessive hours. Firms suddenly start to plan ahead/employ the right level of staff per deal when that is what pays. The simple example is 'oh there's a day coming up where we need 24 hours of fee earner time'.If there are just 2 fee earners on it working 12 hours each then - unless there is client consent/discussion - the firm gets paid for 16 hours only. Share the work between 3 fee earners and the firm gets paid for all 24 hours worked.  

It would be great if more GCs went down this line.


It happens a lot.... 08 March 24 14:58

In a previous life, early in my career, I joined (a well known) commercial law firm and was asked to assist on a multi -million pound expert determination for an important client. 

Shortly after accepting the instruction, the partner who headed the team swanned off on holiday and left me and a trainee dealing with the agreed 5 week timetable. The case involved all stages of a traditional High Court claim - pleadings, disclosure, statements bundles and instructing a silk. It was hell. I'd be in by 5am every morning and would find myself still at my desk at midnight every night, including most weekends. I even had to postpone a holiday.  Other partners knew exactly the hours I was putting in. Even the GC at the client expressed concern and emailed other partners thanking me for my dedication but suggesting they may want to provide additional resource. I was blind copied but I did not hear a whisper from the other partners and the status quo remained.  Through gritted teeth we got through it but I vowed then never to put anyone, including myself, through it again.  And I haven't. Many years later, I am in a different commercial firm, where the culture is completely different. I will make certain that no member of my team is ever asked to work harder than I am prepared to work myself. 

This is a tragic tale of a partner knowing that she had to get this deal done and it caused her to have an acute episode. Something I can almost relate to. It happens much more than we are prepared to accept. It is not healthy and is not acceptable. Working hard is one thing. Allowing others to work themselves to death, is another. 

Anonymous 08 March 24 15:20

This is just another example of how law firms will place billable hours above mental health. 

The systems targeting needs to change, what to I have no idea, but the focus being driven to work more hours is not healthy.

Anonymous 08 March 24 15:22

@11:08 - wait a minute, what are you saying? That Pride events don't have any impact on financials at all?! That can't be right, can it? What about the big cash value of all the inclusivity they generate? We've been told for years that 'DEI is good business', surely that wasn't all total guff to justify pointless on-trend virtue signalling was it?

Anonymous 08 March 24 15:25

Glad that others found the sight of slimy consultants trying to use a woman's death as an opportunity to do some content marketing as distasteful as I did.

Anonymous 08 March 24 15:27

Echoing so many of the comments here, Pinsents’ response is embarrassingly unsatisfactory for so many reasons. It is terribly sad that it has brought something like this to spark the debate but we all know similar working practices go on day in day out.  It is testament to a toxic working environment that people regulate themselves by not speaking up, pushing back or setting boundaries, knowing they can’t, and the firm just sits back and allows it to happen. 

Liability Avoidance 08 March 24 16:22

There are a lot of comments about PM having a terrible response. However, it is worth noting that avoiding liability will be a concern for the firm and likely explains the quotes. The group head will probably have been advised to say “Nobody had any concerns around the pressure that Vanessa was under”.  The alterative is to say "We knew full well she was on the brink and we did nothing about it" (hello liability claim).  The managing partner refers to "ongoing conversations" (i.e. we already address mental health so don't sue us) and doing "everything we can to support our people". She goes on to say this is not a PM problem and its just the legal industry and even society (again, don't blame us!).



Lydia 08 March 24 17:40

This is very very sad for their whole family.

It is impossible to know what caused it.  Housewives kill themselves too. 

I presume video shows her going on the tracks so murder has been ruled out?

Mikey 08 March 24 17:40

What a tragic story. I was surprised that the powers that be concluded that she did not commit suicide. Seemed pretty clear that she did, rather than slip on the platform. 

Boston PI lawyer 08 March 24 17:59

This is why I work for myself. I got off the billable hour treadmill. You need to control your schedule, not have some psycho partner or client control it. Sure, I worked 9am to 11pm yesterday, but that is very very rare. Today I finished court at 1130am and I will take the rest of Friday off and the whole weekend off. 

Anon 08 March 24 19:06

Im sickened by the firms response to this, particularly the Matt person.  To publicly absolved themselves because no formal issue was raised is callous.  We all know the culture and saying No isn’t an option. 

Sure there were lots of issues here but the legal sector / culture must contributed to this  sad event. 

I think the press office function at PM should have hired someone to help them through this and shut down any stupid statements, comments especially those who should know better 

Anonymous 08 March 24 20:52

@Mikey - yeah, seemed pretty clear to me too. I mean, I don't have any relevant training or experience, and all of my facts come toe second hand via the media, but y'know, it's all definitely clear enough for me to form a strident opinion.

Bill Able 08 March 24 22:00

Nothing will change. 

18 years ago when I was a trainee I remember a mate (capital markets) at a magic. She was in the hospital for a personal issue - as yet, I remember seeing a box of files being delivered to her room at 7 pm. 

This was 18 years ago. 

Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. 

I’ve kept track of my firm’s chatter since this happened. Emails on utilization and reminders of what the annual targets are (in case any of us forgot). Im sure it’s exactly the same for other firms. 

For this to change, the whole system needs to be upended. Clients, pay structures, the 6 min unit, all of it needs to be revisited and redone. We’re working on models that are more than 50 years old and what’s being done? An anonymous helpline and perhaps a zen themed room. 

Nothing will change, except a change in profession. 

I’m so sorry for the family that lost the love of their life over the paper of a game. 

Unfair to look at PM as the reason perhaps? 09 March 24 00:15

A tragic loss but I am uncomfortable with the narrative being that her career or her employer were the sole reason. If it was her job, where are her colleagues speaking up in solidarity for her now? Being a working parent is hard, whether you work in the local Spar or a top law firm. Yes there are specific stressors in this industry, same as every other. Nobody knows what was impacting this poor lady so deeply. Many women are torn between a career and a family and doing it alone- married or not- society needs to do better for families, rather than expect employers to fix everything that is wrong with it. We can't have it all, but many women suffer trying to. 

Anon 09 March 24 06:30

So many of us have had mental health struggles in law and put work first in unhealthy ways.  As a senior associate in private practice I had a ‘missed miscarriage’ which was discovered at my 12 week scan. The baby had sadly already died a few weeks earlier but the miscarriage hadn’t happened naturally, as it usually would do.

I went into work for the two weeks I was told by the hospital to wait to see if the miscarriage would happen naturally. This was really ill advised as I could have had a haemorrhage in the office at any minute. I certainly wasn’t in a mentally fit state to be there, but I wasn’t thinking straight and I had a large matter to work on. 

The partner I worked for knew I was miscarrying, but never offered home working, never suggested I take time out and was also totally lacking in any understanding or support in relation to the miscarriage. I was given a three sentence chat about how common miscarriages are, which was pretty upsetting.

I eventually had to have surgery because the natural miscarriage never came and the obstetrician told me that because of the size of placenta etc which had continued growing if a natural miscarriage had happened it would have been very painful and dramatic. He was incredulous that I had just dosed myself with painkillers and gone into the office every day. 

As an industry we need to do better going forwards. 

Anonymous 09 March 24 07:46

Pinsents are one of the “founding members” of the mindful business charter - proof its complete lip service and they have zero actual care for the people working there. Their response to this awful tragedy has been nothing short of shameless- anyone else in a similar situation within their workforce will feel speaking up worthless because they’ve turned a blind eye here and they’ll sure as hell ignore the next ones too. Disgraceful. 

Cynic 09 March 24 13:07

Everyone needs to stop. Some of the stories in the comments are unbelievable. Why on earth would you put up with such degrading working conditions?? Are you starving? Are you bonded labourers? Are you slaves? What is stopping you from quitting and doing something more dignified and less stressful? Accept the lower pay for goodness sake if it means your sanity remains intact. The only way to make a change is for people to leave the profession. Guaranteed that this means the best brains will also leave. It is only when law firms realise that they are left with suboptimal talent will they change their ways. This is the only way. 

Anon 09 March 24 13:39

Out there is a small number of people who want to work 24/7. Law firms love them because it is one person’s salary for two people’s work. They are lauded and the rest of us are “encouraged” to do likewise. As a result, we now see annual hours targets that exceed actual working hours. 
It’s time to recognise that the workaholics are a plague on the rest of us, leading to normal people burning out. It’s time for regulation in this area. Are you listening SRA? 

Anon 09 March 24 15:13

It's an utterly awful situation - and particularly heartbreaking for her family - but I'm not sure that corporate law is solely to blame here. I've not seen any evidence that corporate lawyers commit suicide, or have serious mental health issues, at a higher rate than other careers. Yes it's a taxing and demanding job with huge pressures, but so are an awful number of other jobs - for example the electrician I called the other day wakes up at 5am every day to drive into London from Luton, spends all day doing tough physical labour, and takes home about a fifth of my salary. And people who scoff at the money and say it isn't worth it are, largely, those who are privileged enough never to have had to struggle financially - whilst working 12 hour days weeks on end isn't great for your mental health, neither is having to feed your family on universal credit and count pennies for the electricity meter.

At the end of the day, the remuneration and prestige of corporate law will inevitably attract high-achieving perfectionists, who often already have mental and personal issues. Firms need to be more open about the nature of the job, and people need to be more honest with themselves about their own priorities in life. The myth that we can "have everything" is an utterly pernicious one, which is responsible for a huge amount of unhappiness in the City and in society more generally.

Anonymous 09 March 24 19:30

Responsibility on clients too who expect everything done yesterday or they move on. The pressure is frankly ridiculous from clients these days. Will partners ever have the balls to stand up to them?  

Anonymous 10 March 24 07:47

At Pinsent Masons life goes on as if nothing has ever happened while its leadership acts in a „the storm will soon be over“ mentality. And hey the financial year“s end is not far away please start preparing for it.

Pinkfart 10 March 24 16:58

The shameful thing about city/US firms is that if you are even suspected to be on the way to an acute mental health crisis they will INCREASE the pressure on you to force you out quicker, so it doesn't happen on their watch. Pinsents will just be pissed they couldn't sweep this under the carpet like loads of other firms do with suicides (yes in London).

Roland 11 March 24 09:17

SRA introduce rule that prohibits any lawyer from being able to bill more than 12 hours in a day, or 60 hours in a week.  Law firms told that they will need to manage the situation and structure deal/case teams appropriately.  Simple.

Anonymous 11 March 24 09:32

"It’s time for regulation in this area. Are you listening SRA?" - What? To anonymous dorks asking rhetorical questions on anonymous comment boards? Who offer no concrete suggestions of the kind of workable changes they have in mind? I mean, we can't know for sure, but I think the answer is probably No.

in house view 11 March 24 10:16

how prominent is bullying in city firms these days? when i was a trainee 14 years ago it seemed like it was tolerated/accepted as a rite of passage. this compounded the stress from a challenging job and long hours

Anonymous 11 March 24 11:24

16:58 Pinkfart - totally agree. A very well known managerial tactic at Pinsents! 

Very sad day 11 March 24 12:02

I was a client of Vanessa’s on a couple of occasions. She was fantastic to deal with as a solicitor  but more importantly as a person. At the time I was completing a refi on holiday with my family and regularly working while away. 
She was very good in encouraging me to minimise that and trust everything was under control and spend time with the kids (our children are a similar age). 
Beyond devastated to read of her death and the circumstances which are horribly familiar as a result. I can say with some certainty you can’t see what is going on with someone, there is a combination of stress that damages anyone (I’ve had burnout) and some of those who suffer most are probably the highest performing members of your teams. 

We all need to do better in managing work / life balance for our people (and ourselves), money / status doesn’t mean anything when you are too stressed to see or celebrate what you’ve acheived let alone enjoy your life. 

Anonymous 11 March 24 12:14

I heard about Vanessa's death in the autumn, when I was already very nearly at breaking point - as well as being absolutely heartbreaking, I found the news terrifying and a big wake-up call. I resigned a couple of months later and joined a much smaller firm with a MUCH better culture and no expectation to work all the hours of the day - these firms do exist, you just have to be willing to leave behind the big egos and the "status" of working in a well-known firm. My only regret is not resigning sooner. The fact that Vanessa's colleagues didn't notice that anything was wrong just says it all. So heartbroken for her husband and children, and the rest of her family and friends. 

Update to Anonymous 08 March 24 09:56 11 March 24 14:55

It’s happening guys- we’re getting another webinar! 

Mental health crises won’t happen here, because the secrets of creating a culture of mental health awareness are going to be imparted over Teams. If that doesn’t work then I’m sure the webinars will continue until our collective mental health improves! 🙃

Anonymous 11 March 24 16:56

Where are the Pinsent Masons partners and the Pinsent Masons workforce? In a decent law firm with quality individuals such leaders would not last long. After such a self inflicted crisis they would be pressed to resign and get out of the way.

Anonymous 11 March 24 21:17

All law firms will do is present their workforce with another online training module and tick a box. Nothing else will change

Montyspython 12 March 24 01:39

@7:46 mindful business charter? Shameless grab for GCs DEI spend more like it. 

Il Legal 12 March 24 01:47

@Pinkfart. Then everyone pretends that person never existed UNTIL some hapless trainee starts asking who those initials belong to. Then they can't talk about it. 

Anon 12 March 24 01:49

Terribly sad but virtue signalling on LinkedIn and a bit of lip service is all that will come of it. Win the work and figure out how to do it later, ideally with as few pairs of hands as possible, that is the economics upon which the whole industry is built. Employees and, by extension, clients, be damned.  

Anonymous 12 March 24 01:56

@ Liability Avoidance. You mean having EAP doesn't make it go away???? Deafening silence from employment lawyers in the City. They must be busy 

Anon 12 March 24 07:25

It will be 20 years this year since my Father killed himself (I was 15 at the time). He wasn’t a lawyer but worked in a similar city environment with all the high pressure. People need realise what matters. Expecting law firms to change is a fool’s errand. If you’re struggling and wake up hating your life everyday, it’s time to move on. Your children and your spouse will thank you. 

Paid gap 12 March 24 14:47

Can we also talk about the fact that she would have to be 1000x better than any comparable male to have made it to equity partner with 2 children in the first place?

Anon Anon 12 March 24 14:53

@Anon 07:25. Doesn’t mean those grifty scumbags - ahem - management- can pretend they don’t owe a duty of care. Sadly for those webinar providers, those won’t cut it. Good cottage industry covering up all the s*^t that happens at firms. Utterly rotten stuff. 

Anonymous 12 March 24 15:12

@Punctuated Equilibrium.  Pinsents wrote an alert on psychosocial risk in 2022 ( So they know but can’t be arsed changing. 

Anonymous 12 March 24 17:42

"Can we also talk about the fact that she would have to be 1000x better than any comparable male to have made it to equity partner with 2 children in the first place?"  

Ha ha, very funny. Nobody would have made a man an equity partner with two children. Everyone knows that men have to make partner, then get their secretary to start cranking kids out. Only women get the diversity boost that gets them over the partnership line. 

Exhausted dads too busy to work get stuck in the Senior Associate lane until the kids turn 7 or they divorce their wife for the cute new trainee in Corporate and find a new burst of joie de vivre.

Anonymous 12 March 24 18:58

An incredibly sad story 

If the equity partner (who presumably was running the deal) was under this much pressure, has anyone checked on the rest of the team working on it? They must have been under similar (if different) pressure and working similar (if not more) hours - hope they are being looked after 

Also I think it's harsh to blame PM management here - they would not likely be supervising an equity partner that closely given an equity partners role in law firms 

Being a P or EP can be very lonely at times like high pressure deals 

Anonymous 13 March 24 01:04

@Anonymous 17:42. I really hope this is satire. Although the italics have frustrated senior partner (litigator?) vibes. 

Boosted 13 March 24 03:09

@Anonymous 17:42

Let's unpack that:  

(1) "Nobody would have made a man an equity partner with two children"

(2) "Only women get the diversity boost that gets them over the partnership line."

Good grief. You're a member of a firm DEI committee aren't you?


Easter Bunny 13 March 24 03:49

@Anon  19:06 Yup, should have hired PR so they said something sensible. Too late now, sigh.  Must have spent all their budget on carrots and sticks to enforce the return to work policy.  Carrots. I love carrots. 

Lord of the Flies 13 March 24 03:54

@Anonymous 17:42

"Exhausted dads too busy to work get stuck in the Senior Associate lane."  

Too busy to work? That might be your answer then. Senior Associate seems like a good compromise for someone with other priorities. 

Anonymous 13 March 24 04:36

Anon 19:06  Maybe he felt guilty. If we are to go by his Pinsents bio he hasn't done any work since 2020. 

Facts 13 March 24 10:14

I had a colleague who died at their desk once. The cleaner found them. We weren't allowed to talk about it.  This was a while ago. Things are better these days. At least you are given a webinar about personal responsibility and a trainee to act as mental health coach. Yes, indeed much better. 

Anonymous 13 March 24 10:20

Unfair to look at PM as the reason perhaps?

Well done HR underling, back in your box. Don't you have Pride events to organise?

OHS? 14 March 24 02:02

Is part of the issue that equity partners aren't subject to OHS protections? They aren't employees - their relationship to the firm is contractual.  

Sadly, then there is a trickle down effect to the team who are employees.  Firms have a lot to learn from the construction industry which makes managers much more accountable for OHS outcomes. 

Anonymous dork 14 March 24 02:14

Anonymous 14:28  What actually happened though? In my experience, junior staff would have been pressured to under-record their time to meet the 8 hour-day cap (and some partner would have picked up the remaining hours, despite being asleep/on golf course at the time).  Then the junior staff get in trouble for not billing enough. Part of the issue is that speed makes people and processes screw up and be inefficient. 

To add to Anonymous dork 14 March 24 17:33

Anonymous 14:28: the other thing that happens is that associates aren't barred from billing on other matters once they've hit the 8 hour cap on their main matter. Some partners will even think "well, since you can't spend more than 8 hours on matter X, you'll always have capacity in your day for matter Y". 

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