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A Freshfields lawyer has been criticised for changing a colleague's email so that it joked, "the poor are nothing".
The trainee solicitor, whom RollOnFriday will identify as 'Wedge', sent the gag to his second year intake this week.
Another trainee, whom RollOnFriday will call 'Stack', had emailed the cohort to arrange a Summer social event. Stack wrote, "In case helpful, I am rich in barbecues".
Wedge changed Stack's text so it read simply, "I am rich", and sent it to the group with the message, 'Now amended below'.
Stack altered the revised text so that instead it read, "I am rich in colleagues and so poor in nothing", responding to the group, "And now amended for sake of clarity".
Wedge then smashed the banterbus into fifth gear and circulated a final version to his intake with the message, "Thanks [Stack] - a final amendment below", after changing the email so it read, "I am rich and the poor are nothing".
Stack appears to have surrendered, replying, "Great, thanks [Wedge], will send to [a colleague] now if everyone else on the chain is happy with current drafting".
Second year trainees at Freshfields are paid £51,000, rising to £100k if they qualify into the firm, and while the shock value of putting outrageous words in the mouth of a peer is considerable, the remark caused consternation among some of Wedge's Freshfields colleagues.
One told RollOnFriday that although Freshfields management can be "good on social mobility issues”, there was still a sense that the firm's culture could be “hostile to those from a working class background”.
“It's a shame to see that this attitude towards those from less privileged backgrounds trickles down even to the trainee level”, said the insider.
But another lawyer told RollOnFriday that Stack's joke was “so outrageous that it seems to be self-mocking" and was "poking fun at living in an ivory tower”.
A spokesperson for Freshfields said, "We strongly refute the suggestion that this is representative of the culture of Freshfields. The comments are not reflective of the firm or its values".
Freshfields' belief in its progressive culture might explain why its initial reaction was to warn RollOnFriday to check the email was genuine.
Wedge is not the first Magic Circle trainee to be upbraided for joking about money matters. Clifford Chance subjected one of its trainees to a disciplinary procedure in 2013 after he drunkenly boasted on video that his job involved "f**king people over for money".
Like several other prestigious law firms, Freshfields is striving to shake off the impression that corporate law is a bastion of the privileged, and has invested in social mobility projects to help the less fortunate get a foot on the ladder.
It launched a programme in February which will see Freshfields staff running sessions for a cohort of 100 teenage students from lower socio-economic and racially diverse backgrounds, in order to help them gain access to professional careers and, if they're very lucky, the chance to one day engage in banter of their own.