tldr

The story of 2021. Yay. 


It’s been a year of uncertainty and thwarted attempts to return to normality: of big City pay and small Zoom parties, of risk assessments and empty offices, of mask etiquette and an unexpected familiarity with the Greek alphabet. Let RollOnFriday handcuff you to a radiator and remind you what happened in 2021.

Pandemiconium

office eye sight

"If anyone asks, we're all here to check our eyesight."


Covid continued to be a frustrating impediment in 2021, and the wait proved too much for some. 

One boss ordered his staff into work - despite restrictions - to ensure they "hit budget", while another let the partners stay at home, but not his junior lawyers

Piers Corbyn had supporters in the legal fraternity. Never mind holding a fart in your trousers, one law firm head announced that masks were "demonic" and banned them from the office. 

Another solicitor who rubbished the dangers of Covid died from it, recording a video diary of his last days.

Tensions between staff who wanted to stay away and colleagues itching to get into the office grew, with lawyers complaining that bosses assumed that just because they were at home, they were always available for work.

Law firms expended countless hours strategising the appropriate balance. Before The Omicron Incursion sent everyone back to zero, Hogan Lovells targeted four days a week in the office for trainees, whom it reasoned benefitted more from in-person supervision, while Paul Hastings dropped big hints that it expected all its lawyers back in every day.

Clyde & Co took a delightful, traffic light disco approach to Covid sensitivities with its wrist band system, which allowed staff to indicate how close they were happy for their colleagues to get.

It was a jumpy year thanks to the pandemic. Police broke up an unlawful Covid party under DLA Piper's office (not involving DLA employees) while A&L Goodbody accidentally told all its staff they had been in contact with an infected person

In one of the most-read stories of 2021, RollOnFriday revealed how two Dentons lawyers attempted to keep their relationship secret from the firm by joining Zoom meetings from different rooms in their house.

The Benjamins

weil covid bonus homeworking

A Kirkland lawyer's home office.


Law firms were named and shamed for claiming huge amounts of furlough cash despite raking in profits. One of the most egregious offenders, Reed Smith, agreed to pay back everything after it received a roasting.

In fact, thanks to continuing work and a drop in travel, entertainment and office expenditure, it was a profitable year for many firms. Which was lucky, because a pay war to recruit and retain junior talent ignited.

The red hot market saw several firms raising pay twice in a year. Shearman & Sterling hiked salaries for its most junior solicitors to £135k in April and then again, to £145k, in September. Weil  and Cleary and MoFo, and other US firms, kept pace, and Vinson & Elkins blew the doors off.

The UK cream followed suit by unlocking their  coffers, if not not by quite as much (although £107k for an NQ was still mindboggling to many, including the government's lawyers), while Covid bonuses of up to £50,000 provided extra compensation for hardworking, highly fortunate solicitors. 

BPP University even released a guide to sensible spending, to arm its law students with the tools to manage their disposable income.

Bad Tango

glass

The perils of glass.


2021 wasn't just about Covid and cash. There was also nookie. An Instagram video of an Allen & Overy partner and his colleague engaged in a knee trembler in the firm's London office was the most read story of 2021. 

As if to prep lawyers for such a possibility, one law school found itself advising students how to juggle sex work with their studies. Smut neatly bookended the year: last Christmas Secret Santa delivered a stress willy, and this Yuletide an ex-Dentons trainee was let off the hook after sending a Christmas card recommending a vibrator.

Sex was also weaponised. Accusations that a K&L Gates trainee seduced someone's husband were sent to her whole office. They were later understood to have been the work of a malicious hoaxer

Sex and weapons also mixed literally, when a nuclear lawyer's horny tweets sparked a national security probe.

Chatastrophe

freeths tribunal

Freeths partners can speak eloquently on a range of challenging topics.


Bad banter carried on chatting in 2021.

An alleged solicitor was accused of telling a woman on the Tube, "You want it and you're juicy", while a Freeths partner put up a slide of himself labelled as the 'National Head of Porn'. A lawyer who banged on about the Europeans making "the Congo civil" blamed 'wokeism' for his woes, unlike the Mishcon barrister who apologised for calling Tories "knobs", "turds" and "racist bigots".

The political leanings of the BPP student who caused uproar by explaining that he usually only gave advice in return for sex are not known. 

Not all provocative banter was created equal. Readers defended the Freshfields lawyer who amended a friend's email so that it stated that "the poor are nothing", arguing that his critics were being prudish and missing the point.

Diversity dingdongs

hardwicke

Hard luck, Hardwicke.


Concerns about racial wrongdoing resulted in change in 2021 when Hardwicke Chambers was moved to renounce its slave trade name.

Some barristers were punished for their comments on race, including the brief who joked that Megan's baby should have been called 'Doprah' and the barrister who referred to a girl as a "stroppy teenager of colour" for fighting for her right to have an afro at school. 

Others just got it a bit wrong, like the WLG Gowling initiative which expressed amazement at a "nice black man", and the Freshfields employee who mistook a visiting Muslim student for a cleaner.

Some diversity drives backfired. The General Counsel of Coke resigned when his radical race quota for its external legal panel was roundly rejected, while the CEO of Australian's biggest firm was sacked after she described how its decision to act for a rapist "triggered hurt" for her.

Seeking a similar level of purity, a group of law students vowed to boycott Gibson Dunn for acting for polluters.

There was some evidence of progress at City firms in terms of promoting women, with a spate of females being elected to top management positions, including at Linklaters. Although a former lawyer at Freshfields accused it of freezing out mums, so: mixed messages.

Xi Time

winnie pooh 1

Winnie the Powerful.


The problem with a global client base was brought into sharp relief by the actions and reactions of China this year. Essex Court was sanctioned by the superpower because some of its members authored a critical report accusing China of genocide. The chambers then backpedalled when members who acted for the country quit.

Another set denied it had warned members not to criticise China in case it cost them instructions, but then RollOnFriday obtained the document proving that it had.

Mayer Brown found itself between a Chinese rock and a US hard place when it worked to remove a memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre, first incurring the wrath of democracy-lovers in America, and then facing a boycott by the Chinese when it dropped the client in question.

Bully for you

tyranto willkie farr

"We know there's a bully - we just don't know who."


RollOnFriday's investigation into bullying within Baker McKenzie's South Africa operation resulted in a bombshell report. Former partners, associates and trainees spoke of their dire experiences, some breaking down in tears, and the story was followed by a mass clear-out of the regional management. It was one of the most-read pieces of the year.

Bullying cropped up a few times in 2021. At Willkie Farr, bullying resulted in multiple resignations and pay-offs, sources said, and the cause was a single rainmaking partner.

"It's not ok to make people cry", another lawyer wrote in a barnstorming resignation letter, while another blasted "bitter and petty" partners in a bridge-burning all-staff email.

Home, not working

Office shed

At least it's a short walk.


There weren't just resignations. Covid and enforced homeworking supercharged the drive to slim down business services headcounts.

NRF made over 100 redundant, and Bakers and many more swung the axe, while Linklaters offered all its PAs in London voluntary redundancy.

Heavy lies the crown

oldham

Leadership.


Management has a tough gig, and it met the challenges of 2021 with aplomb. A fine example was the senior partner who informed staff they had a "limited future" if their work contained typos, in an email which itself contained an error. 

Another senior partner warned staff, "I can embarrass you", while Dentons' CEO received mixed feedback for sharing the news that he cancelled a meeting to watch his son's football match.

Freeths was found to have discriminated against a lawyer with mental health issues, Fieldfisher's Matthew Lohn was blasted by a QC for his disastrous advice, and Quinn's London boss berated his critics on LinkedIn. 

Walker Morris decided to 'examine its processes' after it was revealed to have awarded a training contract to its Managing Partner's offspring, but the appointment had its defenders, and junior lawyers were vociferous in their defence of peers they believed to have been wronged. 

Low-hanging fruit

Blue badge

A lawyer's lawful car.


The case of Claire Matthews, struck off for lying after losing a briefcase containing sensitive documents on a train, became the focus of concerns that overworked, under-supervised juniors were being disproportionately prosecuted and punished by the regulator. The uproar resulted in the grant of a re-hearing for Matthews, while the SRA was accused of hunting for junior lawyers' scalps.

The SRA did also pull up a number of genuinely dodgy operators, including, bizarrely, a rash of lawyers dishonestly using disabled badges. And then there was the accountant who nicked £400,000 from Clyde & Co.

Time's not up

octopus partner

"One minute."


MeToo was not done with law in 2021. An ex-Eversheds Sutherland trainee was jailed for sexually assaulting sleeping students at a house party, while a barrister was fined for spanking a colleague.

In a blind item, RollOnFriday revealed that a rainmaking partner at a US firm in London was accused of getting his team's Christmas party cancelled, not because of Covid, but because he groped a secretary. His clout allegedly enabled him to "enforce silence".

Linklaters had an odd TimesUp year: an associate at one of its alliance firms outed himself for sexually harassing a colleague, while in London it was also exonerated when a tribunal determined that a paralegal had completely falsified her sexual harassment claims. 

Tummy tighteners

d gif

When you've left a very important file on the seat.


RollOnFriday revealed in November that Credit Suisse's GC blacklisted Allen & Overy after one of the firm's associates left a briefcase of confidential material on a train in Finland, providing more proof that lawyers and trains don't travel well together.

There was a rich crop of howlers in 2021. Withers endured a double whammy when a partner's Ferrari advice backfired and an associate bungled an instruction by relying on a PLC note. There but for the grace of God. 

Colourful offshore firm Harneys made an appearance in the screwup corner when it was slated by a judge for providing "plainly wrong" advice which "served only to generate fees". Ouch.

User-generated content

Goose trainee

Law school can't cover everything.


On a lighter note, lawyers revealed their best worst typos, which was popular enough to warrant a sequel.

A round-up of the crappest tasks which readers were given as trainees also entertained, although few could match the experience of a Trowers trainee who was assaulted after being sent, alone, to serve notices on squatters in East London.

It's a far cry from the Vardags trainee who crossed the Channel to deliver a frock so Ayesha Vardag had something nice to wear to Elton John's party. 

Mx Culture War

it corwd

The NRF IT team after rebellious computers swapped round preferred pronouns.


There was shock when RollOnFriday revealed that a pair of gay associates had been told, in 2021, that walking together was "not a good look", but it was women's rights which took centre stage this year. 

A law student was investigated for stating that men are stronger than women, and over 100 barristers complained when a feminist was invited to an LGBT event. Law profs on the other side of the debate rallied round Professor Kathleen Stock when she was harassed by students for her gender critical views.

The conflict between women's rights campaigners and gender identity activists saw the Law Society (whose president quit his role amid claims of dishonesty) row back on a template policy for firms which abolished single sex spaces, while a growing number of firms quit Stonewall's controversial Diversity Champions scheme.

Pronouns began appearing on email signatures, although a glitch caused NRF's computers to swap them round. The Law Society sagely advised lawyers to refer to everyone as "they/them", until preferred pronouns could be established.

Cashing in and out

mishcon floats

Prepare for Mishcorp.


IPOs were a recurring theme of the year, although surely Knights' CEO selling £61m of shares wasn't a factor in the heightened interest  

Mishcon de Reya is intending to float as soon as possible, and who knows what Clyde & Co will do if it pulls off a takeover of BLM.

Of course, it hasn't been all champagne and dividends for law’s PLCs: Ince was left red-faced when its shares were suspended.

Add a dash of seal-savaging, a splash of the Suez Canal, a shot of Clyde & Co lawyers getting suspended by a vengeful Emirati and a shot of DWF getting sued by its own ex-Managing Partner, mix in the zest of Bantersaurus Rex, decorate with a brilliant new app offering romance for lawyers, dust the rim with Super League shame, strain out the ex-Clifford Chance trainee who sued his parents for an allowance, and you've got 2021 all mixed together in a binbag, ready to down in one. Slainte!

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Anon 18 December 21 06:25

Same disgruntled ex Freeths employee strikes again.

Not a week passes without a negative comment  regarding Freeths...

Merry Christmas....

Anonymous 18 December 21 23:48

Is that really a Freeths Partner up at 6.25 am on a Saturday trying to defend their pal Ian, because Roll on Friday reported that he stood up at a Freeths Partner conference and introduced himself as “Head of Porn” before showing photoshopping images of girls half his age onto Baywatch bodies to the assembled partners?
 

If so, I hope they reflect on their behaviour.  Next time challenge the unacceptable 1970s style behaviour of colleagues.

Why did no Freeths partners make a stand about this speech? 

Cumberland Sausage 19 December 21 11:47

Surely everyone likes their boss photoshopping their face onto a fit girl’s body? 
 

Anyone who doesn’t is probably just a minger who wishes they were chosen. They are definitely the one with the problem!

Ex-Freeths 19 December 21 21:04

I’m ex-freeths, but not disgruntled. It was a fun place to work, yet slightly odd.
 

For example when I was in Willoughby House one of the Associates had pictures of girls in bikinis and underwear up all around his desk. Made the office feel like a 1970s garage. 

Anon 20 December 21 08:27

Where as 11.48pm is acceptable?

I am not associated with Freeths but same weekly  comments are getting boring.

I guess it's more interesting than the race to the top of London salaries....

 

Anonymous 21 December 21 21:07

Eh? Since when can’t you talk about a law firm that is mentioned in the Roll on Friday article! 
 

This Freeths bloke is wanting censorship on par with North Korea!

Anonymous 05 January 22 19:35

I worked at Freeths one summer years ago in said partner's department. He made my skin crawl. Tosser.

Anonymous 07 January 22 07:31

He is a very creepy man. Astonishing that it was all allowed to go on so long. Suggests something is very wrong is ingrained in the running of the firm. 

Ex-Freeths 07 January 22 14:12

‘Anon 11.26’ then you should go and speak to Freeths employees who worked at / visited Willoughby House. 

They’ll confirm that it was a fun but odd place to work. They will also recall the bloke with the pictures of girls in bikinis and underwear around his desk. Of course what makes that slightly awkward now is whose team he worked in. 

 

Anonymous 07 January 22 15:59

Ex-Freeths - perhaps your ex-colleagues might be willing to come on and back up what you say. Are you able to give more details on the pictures - how many pictures were there and who were they of? Were they cut from magazines or photos of people he knew? Did anyone ask him about them?

Whose team did he work in?

Anonymous 08 January 22 07:54

Anons @ 5th and 7th - which partner and why was he 'creepy'? What was allowed to go on for so long?

Freeths in briefs 08 January 22 16:10

Is the Freeths partner who behaved so badly still at Freeths? If so, why? 

Anonymous 10 January 22 15:50

Freeths in briefs 08 January 22 16:10 - which partner, and in which way did he behave badly?

Anonymous 10 January 22 16:13

Not everyone loses out from sleazy partners. 
 

Can we hear from those whose careers have benefited? 

Anonymous 11 January 22 08:31

I don't think many people will believe that an Associate at Freeths had pictures of women in bikinis and underwear around his desk. Especially without any evidence. And especially given the lack of people coming forward to support the claim.

Anonymous 12 January 22 07:57

Was the female who was filmed having sex at A&O sanctioned or was it just the male? And what were the film-makers' motives?

Anonymous 12 January 22 12:34

Those who worked there will remember the Freeths chap with pictures up of women up around his desk. 

The new management team have been there a long time. I expect long enough to remember the pictures. Indeed, some of them must have walked past those pictures day after day. Maybe ask them? 

Anonymous 12 January 22 13:07

I wonder whether Freeths marketing team have googled the Streisand effect?

Anon 12 January 22 14:24

Anonymous 10 January 22 16:13: what is your evidence that not everybody loses out from sleazy partners? 

Anon 12 January 22 14:29

Anonymous 11 January 22 08:31: Ex-Freeths 07 January 22 14:12 gives evidence that someone at Freeths had pictures of women in bikinis and underwear around his desk. I support this claim as I was at Freeths and saw this. Many people will believe this. Especially with this evidence. And especially given that I am coming forward to support the claim.

Anon 12 January 22 14:32

Anonymous 12 January 22 07:57: Where is your evidence that this incident took place? Nobody is likely to believe it.

City 12 January 22 14:33

Love it that Harneys is described as “colourful”. Offshore lawyers are all second rate but Harneys are in a different league of awfulness.

Anon 12 January 22 14:34

Anonymous 07 January 22 11:26: I don’t believe that you don’t believe it without evidence.

Anonymous 13 January 22 15:50

12th @ 12.34 - sure, happy to have Freeth's management or staff confirm the allegation that someone there had photos of women in underwear and bikinis around their desk. They don't seem to be queuing up to do so. Until they do I don't believe the story as there is no evidence to support it.

Anonymous 13 January 22 15:53

I wonder if staff who have an axe to grind with Freeths have read the boy (or girl) who cried wolf.

Anonymous 13 January 22 15:56

12th @ 14.24 - the evidence is the people that enjoy consensual sex with sleazy partners, and the people that sleep with partners and receive promotions or other favouritism.

Anonymous 13 January 22 15:58

12th @ 14.29 - Ex-Freeths 07 January 22 14:12 gives no evidence that someone at Freeths had pictures of women in bikinis and underwear around his desk. You don't support this claim as you wasn't at Freeths and didn't saw this. No people will believe this. Especially with no evidence. And especially given that you are coming forward to falsely support the claim.

Anonymous 13 January 22 22:52

Most of the sexual accusations were debunked or found to be malicious during the course of the year.

Anonymous 14 January 22 07:52

12th @ 14.34 - that doesn't matter because I don't believe it without evidence.

Anonymous 14 January 22 07:54

Anon 12 January 22 14:29 - perhaps your ex-colleagues might be willing to come on and back up what you say. Are you able to give more details on the pictures - how many pictures were there and who were they of? Were they cut from magazines or photos of people he knew? Did anyone ask him about them?

Whose team did he work in?

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