Death of an associate

Freshfields is currently mourning the death of its associate Matthew Courtney, who fell to his death at the Tate Modern last weekend.

A statement from the firm reads: “Matt was a terrific person and a very promising lawyer. His death is a shock to us all, and he will be sadly missed. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends.”

At The Lawyer we tend to leave these stories alone. Our editorial policy is to cover stories that relate to the business of law. But in this case we think it’s worth providing a counterpoint to the articles in today’s editions of The Times and the Evening Standard.

So let’s get a few things straight.

Any reports that imply Courtney’s death was causally related to his workload at Freshfields are a distortion of the facts as they currently stand.

Nobody yet knows for sure whether Courtney was stressed out, despite various headlines to the contrary. And even if he was feeling under pressure, nobody knows whether it was related to his work.

Contrary to reports, IP associates in magic circle firms are not “frequently called on to work 16-hour days, seven days a week, for weeks on end”. Even M&A associates get some respite in their schedules nowadays. And as all regular readers of The Lawyer know, associates’ working conditions have never been higher up the agenda at law firms – and that includes Freshfields.

Most importantly, nobody yet knows for sure whether Courtney’s death was suicide. But if that turns out to be true, remember this: the level of despair that leads someone to take their own life is unimaginable to most of us. Leave him to rest in peace.