Playing the game.

A former Freshfields senior associate who was also the co-chair of its Women's Network has criticised the firm for its failure to retain women.

The firm, which has recently appointed a female Managing Partner in London, said it had made the creation of an inclusive environment a priority.

Megan Elizabeth Gray qualified in the US and then rose to senior associate in Freshfelds' London office over 10 years, until she quit five months ago to work in-house at Condé Nast.

Gray recalled in ABA Journal how, "For a decade, all I knew was a life in which I worked around the clock".

"It was not uncommon for me to get home from work at 9pm, only to receive another email from a client who needed something by morning. I didn’t mind; I loved what I did", Gray said.

Her perspective shifted when she returned to work after having a baby. "Rather than always being on edge and on email, without the space to be a fully present mom, my intention was instead to be a dedicated corporate lawyer during work hours and a dedicated mom during nonwork hours".

Gray proposed working fixed hours akin to a traditional 9-5 day, with a commensurate paycut, so that she could balance a career with raising a child who recognised her.

However, Gray said that Freshfields rejected her plan and told her she would have "no value" if she worked fixed hours, which were “incompatible with client-facing, transactional work”, and meant her team would be “both unable to meet client demand and unable to reorganize work".

”I was told no one had ever done it before. I was told it was impossible", she said.

Gray said she was "saddened, surprised and angry", and resigned when she was warned by women who had tried Freshfields' suggested alternatives - a four day week or a reduced overall workload - that they would fail, due to creeping demands.

While Gray's time in the Women’s Network had seen some progress, such as replacing 'Dear Sirs' in correspondence with gender neutral language, she believed the firm failed to address deeper cultural issues facing women and particularly mothers, such as a work-above-all-else mentality, and an ingrained, unconscious bias towards men.

"I knew of women, for example, who were told during their annual review that they shouldn’t be so 'obvious' about their ambition, reflecting a bias against something for which men aren’t accused or penalized", said Gray.

She cited times when Freshfields appointed all-male teams for industry conferences, "which begged the question of whether women were even considered", and said she experienced endless client relationship-building events geared towards male colleagues, which she said directly impacted which associates were later staffed on those clients’ transactions.

"I attended year after year of rugby at Twickenham", Gray told RollOnFriday, and although she soldiered on for the sake of her career - on one occasion finding herself as the only woman playing in a client football match at Craven Cottage - having a baby flipped a switch.

"After years of bearing witness as senior female colleagues left the firm — as if on cue — it took facing a block in my own career journey to truly understand what was happening", she said.

Gray said her experience demonstrated that Freshfields preferred to "keep the status quo, and the status quo was male", and to preserve its business model "at the expense of losing women, along with their talents and unique perspectives".

Freshfields told RollOnFriday, "It is clear that there is still a long way to go to remove structural barriers to women that, sadly, still exist today", but that "creating an inclusive environment where people feel they belong and can thrive is an integral part of our culture at Freshfields".

The firm described how earlier this year it launched new diversity commitments and targets "to help us accelerate our actions and hold us accountable for our progress", and said, "We continue to focus on initiatives such as our global sponsorship programme for women, and evolving our policies to support flexible and agile working. We are determined to make faster progress in this area and it remains a clear area of focus for us".

Tip Off ROF


Anonymous 24 September 21 08:22

Unfortunately being the parent you want to be and working at magic circle or US law firms are entirely incompatible.

It's not realistic to just work less in those kind of places.

That said, clearly more can be done to build a more inclusive firm. Not sure why women can't enjoy trips to Twickenham though.

Anonymous 24 September 21 08:25

Working reduced hours = someone else has to pick up the slack on top of their own work when you decide to disappear offline. It's parasitic.

The gall of these people, to demand special treatment at the expense of others and then cry sexism when they don't receive it. 

FBD Associate 24 September 21 08:37

Given the firm’s atrocious behaviour (from both genders) towards its BAME staff, which is never addressed and merely denied, and the current intense focus on making privileged white women feel they aren’t being oppressed, I don’t have much sympathy for the above.

If a BAME lawyer ever told the truth about the kind of racist abuse they had experienced, the partners would make absolutely sure they destroyed that associate’s future career.

Steve 24 September 21 08:38

Speaking as a current Freshfields junior associate, this is extremely unfair to the firm.

Megan was a US capital markets lawyer in a London being paid at Cravath rates, far, far exceeding what the vast majority of English-qualified lawyers at Freshfields are being paid. A “9 to 5 day with commensurate pay cut” would mean that she would be paid in excess of what the junior partners are being paid.

I also have sympathy for the idea that fixed hours js incompatible with some practice areas. Capital markets is a time-demanding practice group where things often have to get done quickly (because of a need to finish things before market hours start or finish), and due to regulatory timetables. Moreover, the London US capital markets team works very closely with the NY team - which of course due to time zones. Finishing work at 5pm would mean she finishes work almost as soon as as NY wakes up (and often times clients and real work starts).

Megan also left Freshfields soon after her maternity leave (and our maternity policy was adjusted not to have a clawback period, so she was drawing full US pay throughout. 

There are a number of very senior partners and counsel I respect, who work a 4 day work week and make it work, or have reduced hours, or for whom the firm has adjusted portfolios and work strategies to make things work. Jobs are kept for people when they return from maternity or paternity.

I don’t recognise the firm that Megan talks about.


Sounds right 24 September 21 08:45

This is 100% my experience of being at Freshfields. The problem is they are very good at saying all of the right things (like with their response to this article, which on the face of it seems quite good) and making you feel as though you do work in an inclusive and welcoming environment. This continues right up until you start being vocal about things that should change. At that point, you get victimised and pushed out for not being a team player. Often the worse culprits are senior women who are also mothers, with their male counterparts seemingly hapless and unable to stop them, or simply unwilling. Heartbreaking and soul destroying.

Anonymous 24 September 21 08:47

So, let’s say I work a job as a US capital markets lawyer, being paid a huge premium to be available at New York time zones, where it was “not uncommon for me to get home from work at 9pm, only to receive another email from a client who needed something by morning.”

But then I adamantly say I don’t see how the firm cannot organise around me not being available at 9pm, during my normal working hours, when it is not uncommon to receive urgent work.

I then accuse the firm of not being accommodating and being sexist.


Anonymous 24 September 21 08:51

Did she ask why 62% of trainees are female? Or does diversity only work one way?

Anonymous 24 September 21 08:52

I (male) was introduced to the joys of Twickenham by a woman.  I can confirm that Twickenham is a safe space for lawyers, women and children.

Anonymous 24 September 21 08:56

8.22 and 8.25. Get real. Of course there are solutions. If management openly don't want to try and explore them then they deserve to be outed in articles like this one. Why on earth should a woman's career suffer just because she has had a baby. Having a baby and wanting to keep doing your job is not parasitic. Grow up.

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:05

If you work a normal 9 to 5, I can see how a request to work fixed hours from 4pm to midnight would be taken poorly.

It's not that fixed hours are not doable - we have a lot of counsel on fixed hours, or who don't work certain days. It's, as the article says, that she wanted to fix hours outside of her regular working hours while keeping the same job scope.

I don't think this is a very fair article at all.


Old Boy 24 September 21 09:16

I would be interested to know what the proposed pay cut was and whether she felt that doing a 9-5, with the rest of the team picking up the slack, was commensurate with a high six figure salary.  

She does realise that the men who work in top law firms have had to make sacrifices regarding seeing their kids grow up and being a “dedicated dad”?

The firm offered her various reasonable compromises as noted above (4-day week), none of which were acceptable to her.

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:25

08.56 clearly isn't balancing parenting and magic circle working hours.

It's doable if you have a partner who does most of the parenting but that may leave you not wanting to be the parent you want to be. Each to their own in that respect.

But I personally left a magic circle firm to see my kids more. I didn't feel I was being a good dad and that was more important to me than late nights in the office. My choice. Can't blame the firm for it. We all knew what we were getting into when we joined.

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:41

Gotta get building that brand yo!

Just because you've landed a nice gig in-house at a corporate doesn't mean you stop self-promoting. 

How you gonna get those cushy speaker gigs at Women In Big Jobs Con 2022 otherwise? Or the Misery Memoir book deal down the line ("I was so sad in Law, it was like serfdom, I quit after a mere decade of stacking the cash and rinsing the market leading mat-leave policy - My Story").

You mugs need to start hustling for the big dolla.

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:42

Shame on you, Freshfields. 

Good on you, Megan, for calling it out. Don't listen to these voices telling you to pipe down and put up with it - that never changed anything.

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:45

What if there was, idk, say some kind of bonus system for people who were prepared to work their socks off for extended hours while they were at a point in their life where it was mutually beneficial?

Anonymous 24 September 21 09:45

Harvey Weinstein this ain't. Jeezo petes she wants special BD events to suit her own interests.

Anon 24 September 21 10:07

Well done Megan, hopefully this is the start of others calling out the toxic culture at Freshfields and their refusal to change or adapt. Something needs to happen there. The firm is sinking. 
And 62% of female trainees does not lead to 62% female partners. That’s the issue. It’s a boys club. 

robotparade 24 September 21 10:10

There’s a senior associate in my transactional team who works 9-5, she takes an enormous pay cut for it, and it largely works well. She sometimes works longer hours but that tends to means 8/9pm for her and nobody is ‘picking up slack’ because we structure teams knowing that she works that pattern. Nobody would claim it’s perfect but it’s definitely not impossible.

Lydia 24 September 21 10:14

I would never go to a sports thing - ugh. Hate all sport. I think hours are worse than they were 40 years ago (although pay is higher).

Anonymous 24 September 21 10:24

Freshfields is a meat grinder - avoid at all costs if you are a junior or want to keep your life intact.

Anonymous 24 September 21 10:25

@10.07 - but 50% of partner promotions this year were female. How on earth is that a boys' club? Sounds like you think there should be more female partners than male. Some people think diversity is great as long as it suits them.

Anonymous 24 September 21 10:30

10:07 - if Freshfields is sinking, it's because it's being out-maneuvered by even more brutal firms like the Kirklands, Lathams and New York firms of the world.

Be careful what you wish for.

Anonymous 24 September 21 10:32

I have a lot of friends at FBD, both male and female - this doesn't tally with the things they say about the firm at all.

Their account of it is negative in a very different way. 


Although they are all litigators rather than transactional lawyers, so it may be that the Top Shaggers culture they complain of and which seems to regard young women as being trophies for male partners to collect like pokemon (if they know what is good for their careers) is only a thing on the contentious side, with the transactional dweebs keeping the slave-driving anti-mother stuff to themselves because they don't know how to pull in the office.

Scep Tick 24 September 21 11:48

Finishing work at 5pm would mean she finishes work almost as soon as as NY wakes up (and often times clients and real work starts).

Couldn't someone in New York then take over?  Pretty much every beasting issue can be solved by recruiting someone else.  But PROFITS!

Anonymous 24 September 21 12:11

Some people choose to have children and that choice has consequences. There are 168 hours in the week for everyone. If you have children, that's time you can't commit to your employer. That's no ‘fault’ of employers. It has always been open to couples to make the man the primary carer, and it remains so now. *None of us can have it all*. Children take time and effort, even if child-rearing is outsourced to schools, nannies, etc. Deciding to have children, and deciding who takes the primary carer role is a personal decision for each couple. The most valuable employees are those who can focus 100% on their career. That’s not discrimination, it’s the inevitable result of a world in which clients have freedom of choice where to take their business.

George Orwell warned ( that:

"[...] we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. [...] In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean world where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one’s political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality."

Efforts to make reality match political wishful thinking are failing. The reality is that:

1. None of us, male or female, can “have it all”, no matter how much we “lean in”. People who choose to have children must decide which partner will take primary responsibility for raising them.

2. Primary carers - male or female - can not give 100% at work, in the same way that child-free colleagues can (who are in competition with them).

3. The most valuable employees are those who can focus 100% on their career. For as long as companies and firms compete for customers and clients, based on cost, quality of service, attentiveness, responsiveness, etc. those companies who employ people who can give 100% to the job will thrive, and the remainder will be at a disadvantage. Employers want people who can give 100%.

4. Wishful thinking won’t survive international competition. In a global economy, all the domestic legislation in the world forcing employers to accept inferior performance won’t change competitive dynamics from overseas rivals without such handicaps. We can’t change economic reality via employment law.

5. All of the above are why US firms are winning market share. It's also why many US firms are now adopting "egg freezing programmes": they're not there to actually be used, they're an excellent warning to the whingers, the child-rearers and the pram-pushers, that "You're not welcome here: if you want to breed, pick another firm. You're replaceable (probably with a man), you don't matter, we don't need you, we don't want you, and we'd rather you GTFO rather than waste our time with your petty, entitled tantrums demanding to "have it all". Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out".

Question Man 24 September 21 12:31

@10:32 - what evidence is there to support the allegations made by your supposed 'friends'?

Do those people exist? Do they have jobs? Families? Collections of holiday memorabilia consisting of postcards, fridge-magnets and decorative trinkets?

Have they, and can you provide here, high definition video recordings of Freshfields litigation partners having intercourse with their juniors on multiple occasions to prove that it actually happened? Does that footage come with audio so that we can know they were not merely play-acting and simulating intercourse in the nude in the name of education or jest?

Can we be sure that such footage is not a deep-fake? Perhaps made by a feminist/jesuit/reptile-person who had superimposed the head of a Freshfields partner onto the muscular, well-hung, body of a pornographic actor so as to create a convincing forgery almost indiscernible to all but the most well-trained of eyes?

Anon 24 September 21 12:53

Is it worth looking into joining US firms with smaller intakes, as someone who isn't keen on 'top shaggers culture' and as a female,not into having flings with partners, most magic circle law firms have the worst press about this apart from Slaughters (FF,CC and Links being the worst I've heard)


Human 24 September 21 13:24

I agree with 12:11 apart from the assertion that people who give 100% of the 168 hours in a week to the business are the most attractive to employers. If you are looking for lawyers as an entirely fungible service to be managed the way you would look at buying computing power from Amazon EC2, then yes, maximal availability is the material issue. But if you are looking for mature, balanced, and reliable staff who can exercise judgment, then maximal availability is just a minor inconvenience to a disorganised manager who lacks the self discipline and skill of managing a mixed team.

The solution is simple and obvious but politically painful: pay less to individuals, use technology to minimise cooperation costs where possible, and employ more people.

There are two important points. One is that regulatory deadlines set in a world 50 years ago which was less globalised and complex probably need looking at. The second is that certain dinosaur US clients are very much part of the problem, and if you are serious about looking after staff that will come with pain.

US firms 24 September 21 13:29

Yes, US firms are all about $$$$$, so (1) men don't have the time or inclination to risk their careers by indulging the whims of their 'little brain'; and (2) many firms in the US have had an absolute prohibition on workplace relationships for many years (remember the recent fuss about Bill Gates' historical workspace relationship, or the guys a Coca-Cola years' ago similarly criticised), and this attitude colours behaviour. Also, US firms are more ruthless and associates are more expendable: as well as having far more of an 'up or out' culture, rather than a 'family feel' (however unconvincing English firms' efforts to inculcate such a family feel), they're consequently less incestuous.

Anonymous 24 September 21 13:59

@12:53 do not ever make the mistake of thinking that anyone commenting on a ROF article has a clue what they're talking about. 

Anonymous 24 September 21 14:26

@12.53 - don't believe everything you hear. A lot of it is false accusations driven by misandry. As a women you'll have at least as much opportunity to progress.

Question Man 24 September 21 14:52

@14:26 - do you have any proof that you are talking to a woman?

Can you be sure that your counterparty is not a highly-evolved clump of algae interacting with you via a keyboard attached to a complex mechanical array of levers arranged so as to enable it to type by emitting irregular electrical pulses from its medulla?

Anonymous 24 September 21 16:32

Megan also left Freshfields soon after her maternity leave (and our maternity policy was adjusted not to have a clawback period, so she was drawing full US pay throughout. 

Slightly odd comment from a "junior associate".

Question Woman 24 September 21 16:58

@12.31 - yes, or to put it another way  there is no evidence to support @10.32's friends' complaints.

Question Woman 24 September 21 17:17

@14.52 - you claim that you are not a woman but a highly-evolved clump of algae interacting with via a keyboard attached to a complex mechanical array of levers arranged so as to enable you to type by emitting irregular electrical pulses from your medulla?

What is your evidence for that claim?

Redrum 24 September 21 18:03

Just reading about taking that full salary Freshfields whack for a year of maternity leave made me ********. What a way to stick it to the Man!

Anon 24 September 21 20:26

I have used Freshfields for years and can recall several associates on fixed hours since at least 2013/2014, which came with a clear message to me [the client) that I needed to bear in mind it could affect fast turnaround at times. The narrative that this had never been done is simply not correct. 

Anonymous 25 September 21 03:44

Freshfields should absolutely be ashamed of itself at the way they treat women and BAME employees. The salary and big dick swinging office is not worth it. I wouldn’t even let my dog work there.

When you break down the hours worked by some junior lawyers they are earning less than those who work in a bar or supermarket. 

Parent 25 September 21 04:49

I'm a father and a law firm partner.  Finding balance with work and home is difficult.  The key for me, both now and when I was an associate, is to surround myself with people I trust, respect, and who will cover for me when I need to attend to family matters.  That said, I would not expect anyone to cover for me every day of the week as soon as the clock struck 5pm.  It isn't fair.  It isn't why law firms get paid so much money by clients.  I endeavor every day to create an environment where associates can thrive irrespective of race, gender, orientation, parental status or economic background.  I can't imagine, however, being able to accommodate a 9-5 schedule.  If that schedule were workable in a top law firm, I'd do it myself.

Pregnant female corporate lawyer 25 September 21 08:26

A strangely sexist complaint from someone who purports to speak for women.

Childcare is not a "women's issue".

Women can enjoy rugby- the fact that she doesn't perhaps could have been recognised over the many years that she described, but it is not "sexist" to provide tickets to a top level sporting event as a client event.

Obviously some of the other claims made about Freshfields do indicate a nasty undertone of unacceptable sexism - but this isn't one of them. 

I've expected flexibility from my employer to be out of the office for midwife appointments or feeling unwell throughout my pregnancy and in return have worked flexible hours to meet the same bonus threshold I usually do. It has been a harder year with a bigger impact on my social life than usual, but I am getting what I want out of life and my career so have no complaints. 

Flexible working regimes should of course be considered for all staff including parents - but not mandatorily accepted where they are completely impractical. Which colleague does she think should step in, waste their time taking handover and look after her matters from 5pm every evening? Presumably someone who doesn't have children. I can't imagine why they'd feel minded to pick up the slack during unsociable hours.

In my opinion, as parents (male and female) we do need to be realistic - but so do firms. 

Anon 25 September 21 10:50

It’s very sad we have created a business culture where people are expected to work hours that are completely incompatible with anything else in life. 

Work is important but so is life too. And what is work actually for. 

Everyone blames this woman, but no one seems to criticise the profit driven mania we have created.  

Unfortunately it’s largely a losing game because the more “ambitious” someone is (call it that if you want to), the harder everyone has to work to serve the system. But all this achieves is a worse work life balance for everyone. 

And kids / family matter. We’re not going to carry on as a race without them. 


Breaking news! 25 September 21 15:38

Breaking news: ship captain says due to voluntary lifestyle change, sea no longer holds allure, wants to only work on land but keep title and mostly same pay, claims “they owe me since I solved sexism last year with my letterhead campaign. What’s that? Some people don’t identify as a sir or madam? Well that doesn’t seem to be my problem, maybe those people can start their own letterhead campaign though if they do, let’s not forget I invented letterhead campaigns.”

Boston PI lawyer 26 September 21 00:09

As Hyman Roth said: "This is the business we've chosen." 

So sick of these mums complaining about wanting all the prestige, pay, etc but wanting everyone else to bend over backwards for them and work 9-5. 

Anonymous 26 September 21 06:42

Sad that most commenters here, like 24 September 12:11, think quantity is the key. Mothers will tell you that it takes nine and half months to have a baby for one mother, or 500 mothers. Most commenters think hours are what matters because they don't think from the client's point of view. But they claim the discrimination is justified because that's what the client wants.

No, it is what the management want. Pregnancy is a protected character. The George Orwell quote was used to gaslight mothers or women at pregnancy age, by a male lawyer no doubt.

But clients are getting smarter. All boys club means more legal costs at a poorly managed firm. 


Anonymous 26 September 21 10:04

Clients tend to not care as long as their work gets done. Yesterday.

This the magic circle we are talking about, not the high street.


Anonymous 26 September 21 13:23

62% of trainees are female and 50% of new partners, so not much of a boys' club. If anything its a girls' club!

anon 26 September 21 15:14

I am getting sick and tired of the current generation of working mothers who are earning a decent wage moaning about childcare issues. Sort yourselves out with childcare like we had to. Flexible working from home to assist productivity and is not there to solve your childcare issues nor to compensate for you skimping on proper childcare. If you can't do the job properly then find a job which legitimately fits around your circumstances. 

Anonymous 27 September 21 12:53

@Anon 11:38 - like beasts of burden fit only to toil in mill and mine until they fall down broken in the mire, whereupon they are removed forthwith to the glue factory to be disassembled for parts and profit.

Occasionally a passing partner will have intercourse with one, but that is principally an act of domination rather than of romantic love-making or an expression of carnal desire. Both feel debased somehow once the deed is done.



So a lot like all the white ones really.

Brian Scalabrine 27 September 21 18:38

The problem is the majority of these hyper ambitious and successful women don't want a man who will be a stay at home father.  They want a successful man who, in many cases, can provide for them or at least match them.  They then have a kid and rather than having that convo at home as to who will sacrifice work for the child, expect private employers to make flexible arrangements for them as a given right, and if they don't get exactly what they want they scream sexism.  If you want to be a present father/mother, the career at a top law firm will need to be put on hold.  Complaining that women tend to be the one's who make that sacrifice is not the fault of the firms.  If you want to maintain the career either settle with men who will play house husband (which the majority of these women will not do),  or accept the fact the kids will not see you much. The other notion that working mothers get judged is something that people need to get over.  Sensitivity due to being criticised.  Absent fathers have been criticised since I can remember, imagine expecting the entire working culture to change because you feel you are being judged (shock horror).  

Anonymous 29 September 21 10:46

The article does say she wanted to take a commensurate pay cut along with the fixed hours. She didn’t ask to work fixed hours for same salary. 

Anonymous 01 October 21 06:53

While there may have been legitimate concerns about working conditions, where she went wrong and lost most peoples' sympathy, was in her attemp to genderise the issue and imply it somehow applied only to women. This when her ex-firm recruits far more women than men. As a former leader of the firms' women's network she ought to have known better.

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