Now that the dust has settled on the Daniel England affair, and the ‘spit roast’ email trainee’s employer Shearman & Sterling has apparently dealt with the matter, it’s worth taking a step back to see if the incident teaches us any lessons about City law.
In my view the most important question raised by the affair is whether this sort of behaviour is rife, and whether it is deemed acceptable, in City law firms. After all, it was pretty reprehensible stuff. I personally would have every sympathy with students previously contemplating a career in this area who are now reconsidering, in light of this debacle, whether the City law environment is really one of which they would want to be part.
Having worked in City law for some years now, I can confirm that this sort of culture is indeed pretty commonplace. However, there is a vital caveat to this general statement – namely that its existence varies enormously from firm to firm. I worked at a very large City firm where, pleasingly, the culture was not at all posh lad; the firm was genuinely welcoming and diverse. But I always got the feeling that at a number of other City firms it was much more normal. In fact, when I was at law school it seemed that some firms had pretty much exclusively recruited the sort of people with whom Mr. England would probably get on very well.
To me this is the key point on which City law firms need to reflect. I find it worrying that, even today, there still seems to be a ‘type’ of individual that you can associate with the recruits of many big law firms. Diversity? Undoubtedly most firms have moved on from the days of employing people based on who are they or who they know, but if all that they have moved to is a policy of employing people of a certain stereotype, that is barely progress at all.
As somebody who has no time at all for the sort of behaviour demonstrated by Mr. England and his mates, I can, however, ring a more positive tone. Fortunately it is possible to get on in City law without having to subscribe to this culture or even tolerate it. You can just completely ignore it, but only if you pick the right firm. That is why there are certain firms for which, until things change, I would never dream of working. You need to do your homework to work out which places are – and aren’t – for you.
As for this individual case, I tend towards the view that the public humiliation that this trainee has suffered, and the impact that it will continue to have on his life (everyone from potential employers to potential clients and even future love interests will be able to read about his humiliation on the internet for years to come) is probably punishment enough. It has been a sorry affair. If, however, the incident makes just one big law firm reassess whether its recruitment procedures are really producing the right results, then perhaps some good will have come of it.
Evan Richards (name changed) is a London-based corporate lawyer