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.
"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.
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.
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.
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 and weapons also mixed literally, when a nuclear lawyer's horny tweets sparked a national security probe.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
Home, not working
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Law school can't cover everything.
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
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
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
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!