‘Employees Too Stressed To Eat Or Sleep’: Ex-Freshields Lawyer Goes Public On Life In The Magic Circle

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By Alex Aldridge on

The high wages paid by City law firms are a kind of “risk money” to compensate lawyers for the damage done by the gruelling nature of the work to their physical and mental health, a former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer lawyer has claimed today.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Jonathan Lee – who quit Freshfields last year after six years at the firm to write full-time following the success of his critically acclaimed debut novel ‘Who is Mr Satoshi?’ – added that “someone in every department [at Freshfields] was on long-term sick leave” and that “there were stories of depression and self-harm” at the firm.

He also recalls he and his colleagues “frequently wandering into work in a daze, exhausted and fractious, bug-eyed on two hours sleep, hoping that we’d get the next weekend off, and in the meantime popping pills to address our various ailments.”

More insight into what it’s like to work in a magic circle law firm was provided by Lee’s recollection of this conversation he once had with Fresfields’ in-house GP:

“I don’t really have a routine. I work upstairs; I’m one of the commercial solicitors. Some weeks I do next to nothing. Then the next week I do ninety hours. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just…”

“This week’s been a bad one,” I explained. “I’ve been in the office until three or four a.m. every day since Saturday, then back in at eight. This morning the job I was doing finished, so I have the afternoon off, but I can’t sleep. I have a new case starting Monday.”

Lee concludes: “I liked the people and much of the work. But I hated going three weeks without proper sleep, and being sat in the same position all day, and spending lunchtimes watching the mayonnaise from my soggy sandwich drip between the QWERTY keys.”

Lee’s brilliant second novel, ‘Joy’, which I reviewed a few weeks ago in the Guardian, is set in a City law firm. Its plot centres around a mysterious accident that befalls its central lawyer character that bears a notable resemblance to the 2007 death of Lee’s former Freshfields colleague Matthew Courtney at the Tate Modern.