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Clifford Chance’s Aysh Chaudhry saga — a sad and salutary tale

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Global mega firm caught between a rock and a hard place as fall-out from YouTube rant lingers

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Rarely does one feel sorry for senior managers at global law firms, but Clifford Chance’s top partnership team has undeniably been facing an uncomfortable conundrum over the last few days.

The firm’s reaction to a situation over which the senior partners would have had no control — the posting on YouTube of virulent and arguably inflammatory pro-Islamic and anti “west” opinions by a recently recruited trainee — was never going to please everyone.

Whatever one’s views of the philosophical and social content of Aysh Chaudhry’s emotional rant — which grabbed newspaper headlines this week after an exclusive Legal Cheek report last Wednesday — as sure as eggs is eggs you can bet CC partners wish he’d kept those thoughts to himself, or at very least off one of the world’s most widely accessed public social media platforms.

Indeed, the Chaudhry episode raises several crucial issues for modern global law firms that now practise in many jurisdictions. It also highlights the point of whether law firms need to enforce strict social media policies on their lawyers, and whether they should apply those policies even to those lawyers’ activities that are not work related.

Undoubtedly, there will be some keen to claim that recent law firm moves towards greater diversity in their recruitment is the first casualty of Clifford Chance’s predicament. It would be a pity if this saga dissuaded City law firms in their attempts to recruit from a wider pool, and it is unlikely to do so.

The Clifford Chance-Chaudhry story is not a crisis borne out of diversity but out of globalisation. More than a quarter of a century ago, when Clifford Turner and Coward Chance merged, it is likely that none of the merged firm’s articled clerks would have been a Muslim.

Some 28 years on, Clifford Chance is one of the largest firms in the world, raking in nearly £1.4 billion in revenue for 2013-14 on the backs of around 3,300 lawyers working in 36 offices in 26 countries.

And a region where the firm has made a big push over recent years is the Middle East. Its own website portrays the practice as being:

“… the Middle East’s market-leading international law firm…. We work with clients throughout the Middle East and North Africa and have offices in Abu Dhabi, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul and Riyadh”.

Put the puff about the firm’s “market-leading” status to one side (which global practice reckons it doesn’t lead the market?), and consider the geography.

Chaudhry took a lot of heat in the Legal Cheek comment sections — see here and here — for invoking the term “Muslim lands”, the historic definition of which is somewhat vague and open to debate. But it is beyond dispute that Clifford Chance’s modern Persian Gulf footprint falls squarely on currently Muslim-governed countries.

In addition to practising across a range of legal jurisdictions, modern law firms operate across a wide variety of cultural, religious and social environments. Business may be business, but there are still local sensitivities. And that is why CC is currently in a pickle.

Chaudhry’s video diatribe might be uncomfortable, unpleasant and even offensive to many. Or it might just appear to be out and out stupid. But he does stop short of incitement to violence and, arguably, racial abuse. (However, if the Daily Telegraph’s report is accurate, and the introductory Arabic chant to the 21-minute dose of hectoring is the same as that used by Isis and Al-Qaeda, Chaudhry’s position becomes increasingly difficult.)

Sources close to the firm suggest the fall-out from the media storm has been traumatic. It is understood that many of Chaudhry’s fellow trainees — and several associates and partners — are increasingly agitated by what they view as the firm’s hierarchy throwing a blanket over the story. Some actively maintain that Chaudhry’s views as expressed on the video are intolerant and those colleagues will therefore struggle to work with him in the future.

But for a variety of “global” reasons, the grand poobahs at Clifford Chance will be stepping ever so softly around this issue. London managing partner David Bickerton and the firm’s graduate recruitment manager, Laura Yeates, are understood to have told trainees that Chaudhry is entitled to his opinions but that the firm does not support those views. As a result it has been inferred that Clifford Chance will defend Chaudhry’s position at the practice.

Several commentators have likewise called for action or at least guidance from solicitor-profession authority. But don’t hold your breath on that front. A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority told Legal Cheek:

“This is an employment issue — it’s up to Clifford Chance to deal with as they see fit. Social media policies and otherwise are standard for any business, regardless of what area they work in. It wouldn’t be for us the regulator to dictate on general employment issues”.

The Law Society was slightly, but not much, more forthcoming, with a spokeswoman intoning:

“Social media has real benefits for firms, but solicitors should be aware that a comment or opinion may impact on their professional reputation. It is for firms to decide what guidance to give their staff on social media.”

Ultimately, this is a sad as well as salutary tale. The most positive interpretation is that a young man, with good academic credentials, a bright future and an obvious deep-seated religious faith, makes a massive error of judgement. But there is a big difference between making a monster cock up and being a bad human being; judgement on this person’s wider character should not be played out in the media.

And Chaudhry is by no means the first to fall into the bear trap of social media. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and even — as we found out in the case of ‘Lord Harley of Counsel’ — LinkedIn, they can all be disasters waiting to happen for individuals and their employers. So often what seems like a good idea to post on social media is best left stashed away out of public view.

If nothing else Aysh Chaudhry’s experience should drive that lesson home to law students, trainees and qualified lawyers alike.


57 Comments

Not Amused

I think that neither he, nor CC has handled this well.

Moreover CC has opened itself to critism that it is deeply inconsistent given the handling of the drunk student and the comments he made.

The boy himself will hopefully come to understand why saying the things he said was incensitive and inflammatory. I was one who sadly concluded the appropriate response was to sack him, having now watched the video multiple times, I have not changed my conclusion. But if CC genuinely disagreed then the correct response was to say why, publicly.

This feels like ignoring a problem precisely because that is what CC has done.

(53)(6)

Anonymous

I’m a muslim who is currently at SOAS. The fact that this individual has decided to upload a public video and refer to non-muslims as “kuffar” is bewildering. The fact that this term could potentially be seen as racist means that in the diverse society, in which we live, it should not be used to address non-muslims. I would never use it to describe my (many) good non-muslim friends given the fact that it would cause offence.

(33)(4)

Ahmed

I agree, in a diverse and tolerant society, there is no need to use a term which has racial connotations. Cue certain members of the muslim community to tell me this is the “un-Islamic” response. *sigh*

(13)(0)

Anonymous

This is really too obviously anti-Muslim. All he was saying that was that he, as a Muslim, should not need to apologize for extremist actions and that Muslims need to be proud of their religion especially in the face of things like this that inevitably follow terror. Basically, you’ve proved the need for his rant. Do you tell the Israelis who say that they need to defend their state and religion against the big bad monster Palestinians by wiping them out they can’t express their opinion? No, everyone lets them go about their business because that’s “anti-Semitic.” And if you say that example doesn’t hold up because no one was bombing Aysh Chaudhry, you’re wrong, because its Muslims who are suffering the most at the hands of ISIS/other extremist groups. Perhaps he shouldn’t have put this on social media, but then again, perhaps Charlie Hebdo shouldn’t have published its articles, yet we’re all Charlie. Legal Cheek isn’t the most serious thing ever, so please don’t start now, ya can’t hack it.

(16)(80)

Not Amused

This is not a ‘Muslim’ issue. This is about a silly young man saying deeply insensitive and silly things. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’.

The language the silly boy used in his silly video is very much the language of division. That is us and them; or ‘bothers and sisters’ (ad nauseam) versus the ‘kuffar’. But he is nothing more than a silly boy. He is not the voice of Islam. Nor will I or anyone else rational pretend otherwise.

Many Muslims have been upset by this silly boy. Many non-Muslims have been upset. The boy said some silly and upsetting things in the immediate wake of a murderous atrocity.

The boy is wrong and should face the consequences of what the boy said. While what he said was in the context of an outrageously egotistical claim to represent Muslims; that claim is as pathetic as the things he said. So it really really is *not* about him being a Muslim. Those who peddle division and hatred are all equally bad.

(47)(5)

Anonymous

This is…obviously…a *Muslim* issue. People *peddle* division and hatred by glossing over the right to have an individual opinion. England is *totally* a welcoming, non-divisive, classless, excellent paradigm of culture-sharing, right?

(2)(22)

Not Amused

A silly boy, saying silly things has nothing to do with England. Neither England nor Islam are to blame for what this chap did – he is.

(29)(0)

Desmond

Hey Mo, the whole world doesn’t revolve around your religion. Get over yourselves. The only reason why Islam is in the daily news is because there are people dying over/for Islam every day. Give it one week of peace and you’ll be as relevant as the nose hairs of George Bush

(13)(2)

Anonymous

No he wasn’t simply “saying that was that he, as a Muslim should not need to apologize for extremist actions”. Why are you lying? Or are you unable to listen properly? What was shocking was the implication from the video was that muslims should not condemn the actions either. Is condemnation of the murder of innocent people against Islam? What is so “un-Islamic” about this?

(21)(1)

Anonymous

It is categorically not shocking that Muslims should not have to apologize for any extremist actions. It is not shocking in any of the major publications that have ran stories saying EXACTLY the same thing. Or can you not read properly? For the record, the point I actually want to make is that this article that Legal Cheek has written is suggesting that Muslims should not have positions of power in law firms, that we should revert to a time before globalization where people were all white and Christian. I could assume that’s not actually how it was intended to come across but well, no one else is giving this poor kid the chance to not have assumptions leveled against them, so I won’t either.

(0)(14)

Anonymous

I think it’s you who cannot read properly chap. Read my comment again, digest, think, then comment.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Can’t take anyone who who says chap seriously. That ain’t a word no more, babes.

(1)(9)

Anonymous

@ Anon 8.31pm
Ask your mate Aysh whether lands conquered during the Islamic conquests count as “muslim lands” or whether the Zoroastrians can have Iran (Persia) back.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Will do as soon as (a) you ask the Israelis when they’re giving their conquered lands back that were taken against modern peremptory norms; at least whatever you mentioned happened before international law was generally a thing (b) someone puts me in touch, he’s hot.

(1)(6)

Anonymous

But that’s the thing, many decent Westerners do ask questions of the Israeli regime. I am presuming you do not care if muslims invade other countries to establish an Islamic regime. Here lies the double standards within Islam, which makes it a particularly violent political ideology. But yes, people like Aysh (and yourself) sound idiotic when claiming particular lands as “muslim”. The term “muslim lands” is itself illogical.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

how is kafir a racial comment.it refers to people who are not muslim in arabic. muslims are all colours and so are non muslims so how is kafir a racial term.

what other arabic word would you use?

(0)(9)

Desmond

Its even worse than racial. It means ‘infidel’ too. So nice try mohammad

(11)(4)

Shirley

Aysh Chaudhry, like a handful of young men, thinks he’s special.

It’s like when Medhi Hassan tried to be a tee-vee imam and Daily Mail reporter – all at the same time.

I suspect these past few weeks have assisted the lad in realising he’s not talking shite at the SOAS bar over a few pints and that he’s in the big leagues now.

He will have to ask himself where his future lies.

Is there a future for him at CC? He could be a nameless automaton.

Or, he could be a YouTube, drum-beating nonsensical tool.

Which will his ego choose?

(49)(6)

Anonymous

Oh for goodness’sake! This is all getting a bit too much now. I was initially quite critical of Aysh’s actions but the way Legal Cheek is turning this into media circus just makes it seem like they are adamant on ruining the boy’s career.
I wonder why everyone is getting their big knickers in a twist if CC is fine with it.

(15)(39)

shirley

because he’s a muppet.

(34)(1)

Anonymous

No you weren’t “initually quite critical of Aysh’s actions” – you’re the same guy who has been commenting under different accounts in support of this fool.

(14)(1)

Anonymous

CC is not fine with it. I’m at the firm and I can categorically say that the firm is not simply “fine” with it. Stop lying mate.

(22)(1)

WildColony

They’re not doing anything about it though, are they?

(5)(0)

Anonymous

You can bet your life they are behind the scenes

(6)(0)

Raoul

He’s entitled to his opinion. He did not incite violence or hatred. Lawyers should not be empty headed billable hour drones on call 24 hours a day. They are part of this world and should have views about it. I would have no problem working with such an individual.

My respect for CC has gone up for the way it is handling this manufactured media storm.

(17)(40)

Anonymous

This. I am the second Anonymous above. What a sad society we live in where freedom of expression is a privilege reserved for only some groups. I was appalled when I first saw the video but now I reflect on it, he has not actually incited hatred at all. However,the tone/music/foreign words might have made him sound intimidating to many of us who have been manipulated by media to automatically be wary of Muslims. I am cringing at myself now for have reacted that way and questioning our overall ability to think freely as individuals.

(6)(33)

Not Amused

The boy himself accepted that freedom of speech is not absolute during his silly, upsetting, insensitive, ill judged, illogical and offensive rant.

All of these subsequent attempts to pretend freedom of speech is absolute after that video are thoroughly disingenuous. As is pretending this is ‘anti-muslim’.

This is anti silly boys who make stupid videos who then wriggle and squirm like the worst sort of corrupt politician the minute they are caught.

(33)(2)

Dave

CC have handled this terribly. Their approach is basically sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending it will all go away.

This will hang around their offices like a bad smell for quite some time.

(43)(1)

Anonymous

The way Legal Cheek is trying to keep this story in the media is becoming slightly annoying. You’ve made your point..3 articles ago.

This is getting out of hand. You are obviously not content with the fact that his face was plastered onto every single leading newspaper over the past few days, so you’re sat here continuing this same story like it’s some ongoing court case, give it a break will you?

The first article seems to have given you so much fame through Aysh that you now regretabbly crave more, constantly seeking it using this “21 min rant” story. Yawn, boring(&repetitive).

& to anyone that comments on this comment saying I’m probably some SOAS hippy, shut up mate, I didn’t even go SOAS.

(10)(30)

Anonymous

Yes you did go to SOAS you SOAS hippy.

(21)(5)

Anonymous

yeah…obviously…
yawn, bye.

(4)(19)

NC Trainee

Why have people been so quick to conclude that his message did not incite violence or hatred? It clearly incited hatred, through the “us and them” mentality present throughout.
That he did not explicitly incite violence is of course true. But read the subtext, look at the context. This is clearly not a man preaching peace.

I do wish people would also stop mentioning freedom of speech. It is quite simply irrelevant. No one is questioning his right to freedom of speech (which is, of course, NOT an absolute right in the UK and EU).

How anyone can say that this is anti-Muslim is beyond me. Those of us that are posting against the man know that we are not anti-Muslim. Nothing we have said is anti-Muslim. It is anti him. His views do not represent Islam.

(26)(2)

Anonymous

For those that do not know him he is one of the kindest and smartest young gentlemen one could meet in todays London.

He does a bad job of trying to make a fair point its fair to say.
But it is sad to see the majority of us in a frenzy because we back one side , one view only much like our views on issues further afield no doubt
Yes he should not have made the point in a video and I understand he removed it and apologised.

The same media that has got us all in a frenzy is the same media who did repost his video and will not stop hounding the story it seems

Clifford Chance did the correct thing.

Chaudhry is clearly a young man who made an error that many are dragging out unkindly, unnecessarily and irresponsibly !

(9)(26)

JJ

But the reality is that he used very offensive terms to refer to non-believers. I struggle to see this as any different to some EDL nut claiming that non-Christians are “corrupt”, and using certain unacceptable slurs in the process.

If he really does think that his colleagues are so disgusting (which the video suggests very strongly) how can he work with them?

How can you be one of the kindest young gentlemen if you don’t believe in free speech? What values is he referring to when he says Western values may corrupt his “brothers and sisters” because they are being “imposed on us” by the “kuffar”?

Finally, as you know him, could you please clear up the news about the opening chant being that used by Al-Qaeda and ISIS? Is this true, is there more to it?

The general language and tone of the video, along with his description of Muslims as “superior” and his dislike of liberal values leads me to strongly question whether he is indeed a good man. Some will say it is unfair to judge someone’s character based on one video, but what he says is deeply unpleasant and he appears to still hold these views, only apologising for “offence” caused.

Returning to the use of ‘kuffar’, considering the oppression of the ‘kuffar’ in many Islamic nations, and having researched the term, it does seem just as severe as the most infamous racist slur. I just don’t find this acceptable. Had he used the other word he would certainly be out.

I would really appreciate a reply re the chant at the beginning.

(32)(2)

Mr Wyatt's Sexy PA

I intrinsically understand Aysh’s problems, I feel for him with great compassion, I can comprehend the subtle conflicts in his soul and the battles his intellect faces when confronted by the clash of his views on the kuffar with the reality of where he works and lives, and after many days of deep contemplation I can only say these words of helpful wisdom to him:

‘Aysh, mate, you really need to stop being such a dong and grow up.’

(22)(3)

Natasha

This is getting a bit unfair kinda witchhunt now – I don’t know about the music stuff – But hey if our Girl Scouts / Brownies and the EDL Far right both use the national anthem or kumbaya my lord it’s not fair to draw conclusions on the Scouts really is it.(Im not a lawyer and not a debater just making a point )

And I agree kafir / Gentile / Goyim
ALL this religious koran torah and biblical stuff sounds strong but he took it his religious sermon thing about moslims being down trodden and apologising for 2 murderers in france down – and himself apologised so why we trying so hard to keep this going. Its Sad + Weird !!

(5)(15)

THE DARK KNIGHT

RIGHT YOUNG ONES
PACK IT IN AND GET BACK TO APPLYING FOR TRAINING CONTRACTS
COME ON
NOTHING TO SEE HERE…..
THIRD TIME ROUND
ON YA BIKE, OFF YA GO

(7)(17)

Anonymous

Okay “Batman”/”The Dark Knight” – get back to your office and do some proofreading. Your support of your SOAS mate is disgraceful.

(14)(5)

Anonymous

…Said Bob Ewell , deluded that he was some kind of Atticus Finch.

(1)(0)

Moderately Unamused

Kafir/Kuffar is an arabic word (كافر‎ / كفّار) that means non-believer. A lot of English speaking muslims use arabic words, such as Allah (الله‎) and halal (حلال‎). Kafir has negative connotations in Islam because it means non-believer (christianity traditionally viewed non-believers quite poorly), but it is not a racist slur, given that a person of any race, including an A-rab, can be a non-believer.

(2)(18)

Anonymous

It is a disgusting term and has no place in a tolerant society. It has multiple meanings, one of which is infidel. It is not a neutral term like ‘non-muslim’. It is derogatory and racist.

(19)(1)

Mr Wyatt's Sexy PA

Good research ModUnamused, but we must also note the way he said the word. I would suggest there is a good deal of rage and antipathy in his voice when he says ‘kuffar’ on the video.

He could have said ‘Pingu’ for all I care, what worries me is that this guy is clearly full of hate for the West, secularism and post-Englightment civilisation, and yet he’s right bang in the middle of the most Western institution ever built: a corporate law firm.

PS – Is it perhaps CC he really hates, or perhaps he’s externalising a sense of self-hatred due to an earlier traumatic event in his life?

(17)(1)

Anonymous

How does this kid rationalise his life? His entire life is a contradiction.

(17)(1)

Not Amused

The N word also has an etymology. That doesn’t make it any less racist.

Somebody else (in the now exceedingly dull and repetitious list of – ‘people who are probably the boy himself disingenuously pretending that kuffar was meant innocently’) tried to compare it to Goyim.

Can I humbly suggest that non of you kids produce a video where you call all of your fellow employees ‘Goy’ either? Not unless you want the same treatment as this racist young man.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

The worst of racial slurs was simply descriptive in origin. Of course, its usage meant that it quickly became pejorative. The usage of the word ‘kaffir’ in the Qur’an itself suggests that regarding it simply as a descriptive term leaves quite a lot out of the picture.

(6)(1)

William

Guys this is becoming a joke & going around in circles with the haters and sympathisers all showing the true colours.

The earlier post is true ( all religious languages and texts have words like this ) Kafar Gentile / Goyim / Sodomite / etc etc – if he was giving a religion talk ( which he apologized for and took down ) why has everyone still got as stated earlier their knickers in a twist

breath in / breath out the moment is gone

we should spend our time on
– thoughts with the families who lost loved ones in paris
– developing understanding and intergration
– why our foreign policy supports unjust wars etc in middle east
– being fairer – its true all muslims should not have to apologise for the 2 murderers
– getting rid of racism and sexism in legal work place

(3)(12)

William

Do we only pick on the muslims at legal cheek now btw ?

Goyim / Gentile / Kaffar / Sodomite … all not recommended unless in a religious sermon
I guess ! ( but we will not accept most of us are party to that )… anyway he took his sermon down and apologized

…and TGF !

(5)(6)

William

oh thanks – i thought you deleted my post

(0)(0)

Penny

I don’t get it, the SRA is washing its hands of this. Then why are LPC students required to read its Code of Conduct and to take a PCR exam. The Code includes among its principles: to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services and to act with integrity.

(11)(2)

Penny

Are these moderated? Why are my comments not appearing (nor am I receiving a ‘we’re moderating this’ message).

(0)(1)

Anonymous

If every lawyer who used the term Shiksa or Goy was fired, we’d be short a hell of a lot of great lawyers. Similarly if we fired any lawyer who said kafir or kuffar, we’d be short a hell of a lot of good lawyers.

If you think non-Muslims are a race, you should probably reconsider your training contract application.

– A Muslim who’s probably whiter than you.

(7)(14)

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