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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".


final email


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.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

milady 09 July 21 10:02

It's been so long since I was a trainee I'd forgotten what utter t**ts some of them could be. Hopefully they'll settle down once reality sets in

Anon 09 July 21 10:03

Just silly and immature - which they will learn when they get a boll*cking and realise they’ve lost credibility in the firm they worked so hard to get into.  In this day and age, judgment about how D&I is handled is so important.   Behaving as if you’re still at university sending prank emails to friends immediately marks you out as a liability.   

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:07

Whoever leaked this is nauseating. Must have been one of the recipients on the group willing to throw others under the bus for their own self-serving needs. Sad to see.

Banter was poor. The leaking is worse. Grass.

Anon 09 July 21 10:12

Shows a total lack of maturity, judgment and awareness of the Firm’s brand and profile and its efforts to embrace D&I.  This trainee is now finished at the firm.   

Anon 09 July 21 10:15

I love the way lawyers write a simple email to colleagues about a BBQ as if it’s an email advice with numbered sub sections.  

Anon 09 July 21 10:17

No, leaking is the only way these things lead to accountability and consequences.  If you don’t want to have an embarrassing email leaked which makes you look like a total fool, don’t send one in the first place.  

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:20

I feel sorry for the trainee. From the context, it's obvious that they're making fun of the original sender for saying that they are "rich in barbeques". But now they will be hung, drawn and quartered while the absolute rat that leaked an internal firm email to the media will get away with it. 

 

I also think this is a prime example of hidden costs of wfh. I bet if the trainee had been in the office they would have instinctively known that this was a dumb, dumb email to send.

Anon 09 July 21 10:23

"Wedge then smashed the banterbus into fifth gear and circulated a final version to his intake with the message..."

I found this line very funny.  Why's it funny?  Not because RollonFriday is suggesting that the subsequent message was really good banter (obviously), but because it was making light of how ridiculous/offensive the banter is.  

 

"..."Thanks [Stack] - a final amendment below", after changing the email so it read, "I am rich and the poor are nothing"."

But why do we third party observers with no knowledge of the context or the individuals assume that the 'banter' was intended in all seriousness?  Why do we assume it is intended as a genuinely meant attempt to belittle poor people?  Why do we not assume, as we do with RollonFriday's line, that the line is meant to make light of something?  Maybe Stack is a posh bloke who's always accidently putting his foot in it with matters of wealth (too many comments assuming everyone had multiple ski trips/year as kids and holidays in the Maldives etc etc) and maybe Wedge is making fun of him for that?

 

"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”."

Sorry, but I'm with this person.

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:27

Freshfields is an abbatoir for humans. One of the associates had a second child in quick succession so she didn't have to go back for more than a couple of months after kid no. 1, then took her maternity pay and left rather than jump back into the gaping maw.

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:30

I'm pleased rof at least allowed for the possibility this was harmless, if tactically dumb, chat.

The context here shows that wedge wasn't saying the poor are nothing, he was making it look like his friend was saying it, to mock his friend.

People are too quick to ignore details which totally alter the intent, and to leap on the thing that looks outrageous but actually isn't.  

Tobias 09 July 21 10:40

As a foreigner I often struggle to understand the supposedly world-beating British sense of humour. It's world-beating in the sense that Brits can't speak or understand any other languages and have nothing to compare it to (hence their xenophobia). Objectively, it's far from world-beating, and actually rather boorish.

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:45

The person who leaked this externally is pathetic. If they were really offended they would have just sent it on to HR (which would have also been pathetic, but marginally less spiteful). 
 

everybody makes mistakes. Hopefully the individuals concerned learn from it - i.e. (i) keep your lame “bants” off email; and (ii) law firms are truly dreadful places and you can’t trust ANYBODY. 

 

 

Anonymous 09 July 21 10:46

Totally unfair on the trainee - clearly not intended to belittle the impoverished and was a joke about the original writer's wealth/privilege.

Not a great or sophisticated one, but that's not exactly unusual in the context of daft office email jokes.

They've got nothing to be ashamed of.

 

 

Oh, and the leaker is obviously an oversensitive halfwit. But I think everyone knows that already.

Anonymous 09 July 21 11:08

@10:42 - it stands for Dungeons & Inuits.

It's a popular roleplaying game set in the frozen north, in which the noble inuits fight a constant battle for liberation against mighty white polar-dragons that are simultaneously evil and boorish, but also subtle tricksters who have woven the world into the bondage of a false consciousness. The inuits are wise and strong but, paradoxically, start the game living the lives of enfeebled servants. Everything is the dragons' fault.

You win by woking the world up from its slumber and letting it flourish in the springtime of an age in which all of the white dragons are cast out of leadership roles and mainstream television appearances.

Mature lawyer 09 July 21 11:21

When I trained at Freshfields, I was proud and honoured to be a Trainee there.  I was grateful for the outstanding training I received.  I was very mindful to be discrete because of my good fortune, especially when I discovered that, as a Trainee, and knowing nothing (so to speak), I was earning a multiple more (2x, 3x) that which a nurse or teacher earned.  It was not that long ago, but in the meantime, social and economic differences have widened, not narrowed, and thus, the old adage about not joking about (or at least being very careful to joke about) politics, religion and money is wise.

Anon 09 July 21 11:26

Couple of points:

1.  being a lawyer (or aspiring to be one) in any firm, not least one like FF, requires judgment, maturity and sensitivity.  Whether or not the intention of the email was to poke fun at the poor (seems less likely) or the person who was sending it out (more likely) it still was foolish because things in writing can easily gain meaning and weight that wasn’t intended.  Lawyers are supposed to understand the power of words.   Having the awareness and judgment to stop oneself from making any jokes about certain issues like race, class, poverty, gender etc (and to leave these pranks if you absolutely can’t stop yourself for the pub with trusted fiends and away from work emails) is key.  
 

2.  In terms of who has been “hurt” - it looks bad for a privileged lawyer at a top city firm to be in any way be talking about “the poor” in a dismissive, jokey and condescending manner, or one capable of being interpreted as so.    It looks bad for the firm which is trying to embrace D&I and which hasn’t had a good record in the past.   It looks bad for the trainee.  
 

3.  Let’s also get a sense of perspective.  People make mistakes and say or do things in the office that they shouldn’t or which they regret.  A trainee who may be in their early 20s is learning and in this case appears immature.  They probably wish the ground would swallow them up.  Let’s not trash this person’s career.  

Anton 09 July 21 12:32

@ Anonymous 09 July 21 11:09

Would you be asking that question if the trainee had said "all blacks are nothing"?

I think not - why should socio-economic prejudice (or at least a 'joke' based on it) be treated differently?

I should know 09 July 21 12:49

That trainee will be fast tracked to partnership… after a light slap on the wrist there will be a team around HIM to ensure he overcomes this and is given so much opportunity to reinvent himself and raise his profile positively. Jokes about the poor are a sure way to buddy up to partners at that cesspit. 

Anonymous 09 July 21 13:14

If we ignore the classism for a second, anyone who writes emails like this to arrange a BBQ is clearly an Uber tede. 

I'd be surprised if anyone turns up the bbq. Even if there is 'top lad bantz'

Anonymous 09 July 21 13:35

Right, everyone roll for initiative!

I'm playing an Inuit Self-Employed Pharmacist, who makes his money on the mean streets despite having a heart of gold. It's gritty, but also morally blameless. Anyway I only do it because the evil dragon Tha'Chair took away all of my other life opportunities back in the dawntime*. 

I'm rolling to attack the Pampered Trainee, but he gets +7 to his armour bonus because of the crowd of partners (all dragons but currently conjuring Human Form) casting Wards Of Unspecified Protection on him. They'll keep doing it for as long as he manages to maintain a score of 2000 billable hours. Their protection is the only reason that he's succeeding at these checks and I'm still struggling to get to Level 3.

 

*If you've read the lore you will know that she forced us all into serfdom with her Orb of Grammar and Schooling (+11 to Intelligence) and by crushing our dwarven allies in their mining halls.

Anonymous 09 July 21 14:06

I once attended an Inns of Court dining session where a bencher advised us to never write anything down we wouldn't want to have read out in the House of Lords. Sound advice.

Anon 09 July 21 14:13

@1046 - it’s about the lack of judgment and maturity in not seeing that making any statement about an underprivileged group in writing carries risks of being interpreted badly.  The evidence of this risk existing is this article and comments.   Having self awareness is kind of key.  

LondonLife 09 July 21 14:43

Can we just agree that whoever leaked this is an utter boring ——?

It was just rubbish banter but now the leaker is trying to destroy the career of a fellow trainee. You can't even tell who is mocking who.

@13:14 - You're just bitter about never being sent an invite to a BBQ.

Anonymous 09 July 21 15:44

Ok, as a incoming trainee from a poor socio-economic background, this is legitimately funny and whoever reported it is insane. It’s clearly a joke, and very obviously not actually suggesting the poor are nothing. 
 

And honestly, as someone from one of these backgrounds (and therefore lacking the apparent metropolitan sensitivity to banter), it makes me slightly terrified that I’m going to end up loosing my job for making a joke or comment that, in the working class culture I’ve grown up in, would be perfectly fine. 

Anonymous 09 July 21 17:16

Any trainee who suggests All blacks are Nothing knows sod all about rugby and will need to lift their game if they want to make partner.

Catweasel 09 July 21 21:09

Don’t any of those involved in  (1) the original thread and/or (2) this extensive thread of comments have anything better to do with their time?

Anon 09 July 21 21:19

I was once on a call with two Freshfields lawyers, both of them called Piers. This was typical of the firm. Diversity agenda, my arse. 

Pom Pous 09 July 21 22:21

@Anon 09 July 21 21:19

Surely diversity means they recruit from Oxford and Cambridge.

 

 

Anonymous 10 July 21 07:20

Given the way Fs fights for the rights of corporations not to pay tax, I can see why they wouldn't want a bad joke from a thoughtless trainee to draw attention to the way they fail to support the society they and their clients make their money from.

Of course it's all legal.  But imagine if someone got angry enough to start scrutinising it.  They might actually want to change that.  

And then the system whereby firms send associates on secondment to HMRC might be challenged and then all the other cosy relationships might come into the light and then hey - people might actually start to think that they and all the other City law firms do believe the poor are nothing.

Horror!!!

Anon 11 July 21 21:23

Yawn. I’m afraid I read this as an ill-judged joke about a trainee having multiple barbecues. 

We’ve all glossed over the bit that talks about letting colleagues know they will be uncontactable that evening (ie they feel they need to. Erm it’s the evening so I wasn’t at work and was living my life).

How about this was just meant to be a bit of a joke between friends - and it was a form of self / group deprecation as it actually acknowledges that they are privileged. Sounds like some trainees were looking out for each other by trying to be human and organise a get together and somebody, I am sure for cynical political purposes, has seen ‘an angle’ to take. 

Failure here to understand context I think.  

Anon 13 July 21 10:17

“How about this was just meant to be a bit of a joke between friends - and it was a form of self / group deprecation as it actually acknowledges that they are privileged”

So your rationale it’s ok to make any joke, on any subject, as long as it’s at work but amongst friends (even using work systems)?  What would you say if instead of “the poor”, the phrase “I am white and the blacks are nothing” or “I am heterosexual but the gays are nothing ” or “I am christian but the jews are nothing” had been used?  On your logic, no issue arises I assume, as long as it’s a joke between individuals at work?   

I have to say, I’m not sure this is the most attractive or persuasive argument.

I’m also really not sure the comment was self deprecating.   To say someone is rich and the poor are nothing is at the very least possible of being interpreted as a sideways snipe at the poor, given there was no other qualification on the word “rich” (like “selfish” or “mean”) that would have made it clearer it was self deprecating.  The words are quite capable of being interpreted as “a city lawyer is rich and the poor are nothing”.  Using someone else’s email as the mechanism is simply a way to hide behind it, but still say things like this.  
  
 

 

Anonymous 13 July 21 10:30

Obvious that "Stack" is the target of the joke and not poor people. Complete non-story.

Anon 13 July 21 12:42

@1030

It isn’t obvious at all.  You’ve just interpreted it that way, but as many have said above, it is capable of being interpreted at a dig at “the poor” - as if, the only thing that human beings have who are disadvantaged is to be labelled “the poor” in an almost Dickensian view and contrasted with rich lawyers.  It is vulgar at best.  At worst, it was very insensitive and as has been said above, showed a massive lack of judgment and maturity and self awareness out of the banter bubble.   And to do it on a work email….goodness me, what was this person thinking?  Juvenile.  

Anon 13 July 21 12:43

I would love to see the posters above who think this is all ok trying to justify it to the Freshfields D&I partner.  

Anonymous 13 July 21 14:48

If we were to judge most City law firms by their deeds rather than their words, we'd have to come to the conclusion that the trainee was not making a joke but rather expressing the firm's mission statement.

And yes, I know they do pro bono.  And no, that doesn't make up for it.

Anon 13 July 21 20:00

@Anon 10:17

Clearly we disagree on this - but my final sentence “Failure here to understand context” is, I believe, key. Nowhere did I say any joke on any subject is ok etc. I think if you look at how this got to where they did though it was multiple redrafts and I read it as targeting the multiple barbecues rather than ‘the poor’. The first amendment that Wedge made to Stack’s email was “I am rich” (“I” here being Stack, not Wedge). To try to shake of the ‘rich’ image, Stack changed it to read “I am rich in colleagues and so poor in nothing”, which is how it ended up where it did, which was a dig at Stack, in my view. Reading the rest of the email above (parts that are visible), it sounds as though there might be 25-30 people and trainee is laying on meat and salads and possibly drinks, not for first time (as they wanted to know about dietary requirements) - this might, to some, appear rather ‘extra’.
 

It’s stupid slightly boorish banter but I don’t believe this was really saying ‘the poor are nothing’ - I think it was another way of saying ‘get you with your multiple barbecues’.

 

Anonymous 14 July 21 09:19

"So your rationale it’s ok to make any joke, on any subject, as long as it’s at work but amongst friends"

 

Yes, that's what he said isn't it...

You've captured the essence of his post so succinctly that I am amazed he didn't actually write those words himself.

You win the Internet. Silk surely beckons.

Anonymous 14 July 21 11:26

"I would love to see the posters above who think this is all ok trying to justify it to the Freshfields D&I partner."

I'm sure that they'd relish the opportunity, it'd be great fun.

"Yes, I know that you intended it as a joke about your own privilege, but a hypothetical impecunious person who read it might have had their feelings hurt, can't you see the actual harm that is doing in the real world? It's very serious.

Yes, I know that means that the email could only have actually caused that harm if someone leaked it, but no you're not allowed to point out that on that basis it's the leaker who has caused the harm they profess to be so upset about.

Why not? Well, because those are the rules in Dungeons & Inuits 8th edition.

Now, Check your privilege and roll for initiative!!!"

 

Anonymous 15 July 21 07:35

Why is anyone surprised by this.

We all know that HR depts and the like are their to silence staff, minimise reputational damage and avoid lawsuits.

Whatever the motivation for the "joke", once it's out in the public arena he's going to get stamped on.

Assuming he doesn't drop any bollocks in the future it won't even harm his career.  There will plenty of people in the firm who privately agree with one or other or both interpretations of his remark and assuming he performs well he's probably on the partnership track.

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