An apology may have been enough for DLA Piper sexist email partner Nick West to keep his job. But it can’t reverse the damage his witless misogynistic quips have done to City lawyers’ reputations.
There are many areas in which lawyers excel. Other professionals can only look on with awe and no little envy at our unparalleled command of the numbered sub-paragraph, our flair for pointless verbal tics (“including, without limitation…”, “for the avoidance of doubt” and so on, mutatis mutandis) and our inexhaustible array of ways of saying “No, I won’t actually answer your question, but here’s an expensive not-quite-an-answer for you to frame on your wall”.
Disappointingly, though, it turns out that we’re piss-poor at a bit of casual sexism.
Examine, if you will, the emails sent by DLA Piper partner Nicholas West to Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore, for which the former was pardoned this morning after issuing a grovelling apology. (Trigger warning: if the thought of someone your dad’s age trying hard to be laddish and falling slightly short embarrasses you, don’t examine them.)
What seeps out is West’s desperation to impress his loucher mate with unconvincing attempts at 90s-style ladspeak. The overwhelming air of effort isn’t surprising. West’s photo on DLA’s website has the mildly fretful expression of a man who’s already late for his daughter’s oboe recital and suggests he hasn’t changed his glasses or hair in 20 years; hardly an obvious lothario.
Still, you have to give your important contacts what they want and West was up for the challenge. He first tried his hand with “Have spent all day fending Edna off my graphite shaft. She is terribly relentless isn’t she?!”. A Premier League “source” apparently told the Daily Mirror that the chivalrous pair claimed that the emails were referring to golf clubs. Sadly for our try-hard hero, this is all too plausible. Of course his go-to innuendo involved golf; this is the authentic voice of a man who sits in the same seat every evening on the 19.05 to Barnes, while the pettish one-upmanship of “graphite” could only have come from a City solicitor. The fact that he failed to say anything about “ball control”, “improving his stroke” or the obvious “hole in one” just underlines that we’re looking at a rank amateur.
Perhaps sensing that he’d got off to a slow start, his next effort was the thrifty advice “save the cash in case you find some gash”. At first glance, this is a bit better. “Gash” has a solidly offensive ring to it, after all, with a queasily misogynist hint of violence, and the idea that women are just walking holes available to the next cash buyer is suitably medieval. But someone should have told West that nothing dulls the edge of an offensive sentiment quite like expressing it in rhyming couplets. Even when they don’t quite scan (can’t this guy do anything properly?).
Perhaps most revealing of all was the joke forwarded on by Scudamore. “Once upon a time a Prince asked a beautiful Princess, “Will you marry me?” The Princess said, “No!” And the Prince lived happily ever after and rode motorcycles and banged skinny big t****d broads…”. Only the most tiresomely conventional of middle-aged drudges would think it worth repeating a crass non-joke that sounds like the storyboard for a forgotten Meatloaf video.
And that’s what’s truly depressing about the emails. Not just that they’re offensive and tawdry (although they are) nor that West is a grotesque sexist who should be ashamed of himself (although he may be the former and should certainly be the latter) but that they’re a dull person’s idea of crude banter; devoid of wit and originality. If anything’s likely to bring the profession into greater disrepute than it enjoys already, it’s the notion that we’re all crashing bores.
WaitroseLaw is a lawyer with luscious organic selection, impeccable ethics and dinner party skills. She is not affiliated with or authorised by Waitrose.
DLA partner in Scudamore scandal: “I let myself, my firm and its clients down” [The Lawyer]
DLA Piper launches probe over reports that partner referred to women as ‘gash’ in email exchange [Legal Cheek]