Sex in the City
1 April 2002
What do lap dancers and lawyers have in common? Not much, you might initially think, oth-er than both start with a 'la' and end in 's'. But upon closer examination, these diverse occupations do share a couple of similar traits.
Both jobs, for example, can involve long, unsociable hours, which must often be spent with unsavoury, demanding clients. Both lap dancers and lawyers can command enormous fees for their services - usually payable on an hourly basis.
While a partner at a top international law firm - say Clifford Chance - can earn up to 850,000 a year, seasoned lap dancers can take home more than 5,000 per month in tips, in addition to their basic salaries.
As reported recently by Tulkinghorn, The Lawyer's erstwhile diarist, one Clifford Chance partner found himself in hot water when it was revealed that he had frequented a branch of Spearmint Rhino, a popular lap dancing establishment in the heart of Central London, perhaps foolishly taking some female journalists with him.
'A room of scantilly clad females may be the vision of every heterosexual man's dreams, but it's not the way professional relationships should be bolstered' - Justin Gyphion, Cardiff University law student
After an organised night out for Clifford Chance partners and legal journalists had come to an end at 10.30pm, a breakaway group decided to continue the party elsewhere in town and happily hopped into some taxis in search of fun.
'Tulkinghorn' was astonished to be told that the group was "going for some sex", and was soon sheepishly nursing a drink in a corner of the lap dancing club, while scantily clad ladies vied for the attention of his hosts.
And then nobody could stop the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard from seizing on the story like a pair of sleaze-starved vultures.
'Lap dancing lawyer' screamed the Mail in disgust, which also went on to name and shame the partner in question, print his picture and his marital status. The Standard also reported that the senior lawyer had been asked to issue a "humiliating apology" to his colleagues for "bringing the law firm into disrepute".
Since the incident was first reported, there has been some dispute about the exact motivation behind the expedition to Spearmint Rhino: did the partner lead the way into the club or was he pushed? Ethical questions have also been asked: was it bad form for the journalists who were 'entertained' as guests of the partner at the lap dancing club to have spilled the beans in the press, or is the news a genuine matter of interest to the public?
"Lawyer-bashing is a well-known sport," says Jill Greenfield, a solicitor at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and the immediate past president of the London Young Solicitors Group. "I don't think people should come down so hard on lawyers and say [visiting a lap dancing club] is a terrible thing to do when lots of other people [in different professions] do it."
The Leader column that appeared in The Lawyer the week after the Clifford Chance story first broke generated a hearty response from readers, who voiced concerns that lap dancing is fast becoming an acceptable part of the corporate entertainment culture. While these lawyers do not consider themselves to be prudish, they are clearly unhappy that strip clubs are being used as a backdrop for business activity.
But going to lap dancing clubs is nothing new; after all, stag nights and lads on a night out have been doing it for years.
'As a lawyer, if you are doing a deal with a client and are above a particular age, then maybe your don't wnat to go on to one of the louder nightclubs' - Peter Stringfellow
It is regarded as a 'good laugh', and the dancers themselves repeatedly claim that they are the ones doing all the exploiting. Strip club owners also report that a growing proportion of their customers are now female, a trend that has been made 'respectable' by showbusiness figures such as model Sophie Dahl and members of the Spice Girls. It seems that lap dancing has quietly slipped under the nose of the Mary Whitehouse brigade and into the mainstream with the minimum of fuss.
The very fact that the Advertising Standards Authority has received only nine complaints since 1999 about Spearmint Rhino's provocative poster campaign also suggests that the general public is now so used to seeing images of scantily clad women at every turn that they can hardly be bothered to bat an eyelid, let alone dash off a 'yours disgustedly'-style letter about it to the relevant authorities.
Somewhat ironically, the worldwide chain of Spearmint Rhino clubs is run and owned by a former law student, John Gray, an American who has managed to charm the socks off the City by promoting table dancing as an upmarket, and therefore respectable, activity for corporate types.
Peter Stringfellow, owner of the famous Central London club of the same name, has also noticed an increase in corporate custom, particularly around the Chrtistmas party season. He has claimed in the past that "some of the biggest names in banking [sic] you can think of" have used his club for executive purposes.
Other fans of Stringfellows include Tatler magazine, which held its Little Black Book party for eligible babes there last year, as well as Sky Television, Coca-Cola and Merrill Lynch, according to newspaper reports.
Firms that indulge in such activities, however, should be on their guard. At the beginning of this year, Schroeder Securities, a City investment bank, was taken to an employment tribunal by a female employee on the grounds of sexual discrimination and was ordered to pay her 1.5m in compensation. The tribunal also condemned the firm for the "laddish or sexist air" of its corporate entertainment policy, which included - you guessed it - visits to lap dancing clubs.
But if lap dancing is really your thing, then there is absolutely no reason why you should not spend your spare time and hard-earned cash at places like Spearmint Rhino.
Jill Greenfield agrees. "If a client wants to go and the lawyer does too, then why not - they're grown-ups after all," she concurs. "But it would be a big problem if there was pressure on assistants or trainees who were unwilling to go, but were concerned that saying no would harm their career."
Things can also get tricky when you try to establish when a lawyer is not a lawyer, ie when they are 'off duty'. For example, could the Clifford Chance partner in question have reasonably considered himself to be in neutral territory when he ventured into the club with a gaggle of legal hacks that fateful night?
If the rumour mill is correct that lawyers from high-profile firms (who shall remain nameless) are happy to woo their business contacts in the company of writhing lap dancers, then what impact will this have on the image of the legal profession? And should trainees be bracing themselves for a resurgence of the sleazy, sun-drenched world of corporate culture that dominated the 1980s?
Karen Aldred, the incoming chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors, agrees that the culture has changed but that client entertaining is still a male-dominated arena, despite the growing proportion of female lawyers in the profession.
"Client entertainment used to be taking someone to a club, which would have been a gentleman's club. Now you have to be seen to be doing something different," she says. "Women have 'delicacies' as to what they do and don't want to do and as many women still have a second role at home, client socialising impinges on their time.
"We've also found that young men don't want that kind of work culture any more and would like more flexible working arrangements. Many women prefer to entertain over lunch, within a safe environment."
Rachel Argent, a third-year law student at Cardiff University, says she would refuse to accompany clients to a strip club, even if asked to by a senior partner. "There are surely hundreds of more impressive but suitable places to take clients," she says. "I also think it exacerbates the male, macho image within law firms."
Her colleague Justin Gyphion, also a law student at Cardiff, agrees that it is "hypocritical" to "expose clients to such a gender-biased atmosphere".
"A room full of scantily clad females may be the vision of every heterosexual man's dreams," he adds, "but it's not the way professional relationships should be bolstered."
Peter Stringfellow: an expert's view
Peter Stringfellow, founder and owner of Stringfellows nightclub in London, claims that most of his business is generated by corporate clients.
"We have been corporate since we opened in 1980 as a restaurant and nightclub. And when we brought the girls in the corporate bookings went up," he told Lawyer 2B, adding that only the night before he had had dinner with a group of lawyers in his club.
In fact, Stringfellow regularly accepts invitations to give talks about his club's relationship with the corporate sector.
"There is a lot of history between us," he says. "I make it my business to appeal to professionals."
"So long as people stick to the rules, don't touch the girls or try to chat them up, they will have a wonderful time. We have a lot of beautiful girls and a great restaurant. The professionals that come in here find it very relaxing."
Stringfellow has noticed an increase in the number of women attending his club, particularly among groups of professionals.
"Where do people go to entertain their clients? As a lawyer, if you are doing a deal with a client and are more than a particular age, then maybe you don't want to go on to one of the louder nightclubs. So you end up at one of the top clubs like Stringfellows. A lot of bonding goes on there," he adds knowledgeably.
Janet Armstrong-Fox, a partner and head of property at Collyer-Bristow, believes that the biggest issue at stake is the fact that the relaxed attitude towards stripping as a corporate activity may actively disadvantage professional women.
"Whether the women employed in such clubs are exploited or are just well-paid performers of 'modern entertainment' is a separate issue," she states firmly. "But what woman would trust her future to be decided by a superior who views women as entities whose sexual attentions can be bought at a rate of 20 for three minutes?
"They may be very good at compartmentalising women into categories of by day professional equals and after hours cheap excitement to be bought, but I wouldn't want to trust this if I were a young professional woman on her way up."
Fortunately for female lawyers, Armstrong-Fox does not think they will have to. Although Spearmint Rhino chiefs are pushing ahead with plans to open a club in every UK city, meaning that the temptation of lap dancing will be even more in your face than ever before, she believes that most law firms will follow the "reassuringly condemnatory" reaction shown by Clifford Chance if any other member of staff is caught in the lap of a goddess.
The view on campus
We asked a number of students at Nottingham University and Warwick University what they would do if, as a trainee, they were asked to take clients to a lap dancing club.
"I feel particularly sorry for the Clifford Chance employee. He was not participating in anything illegal, and not doing anything that hundreds of people don't do every evening. As a trainee I would have no problem in this situation, and if the clients wished to attend such a club I would consider it my duty, and only polite, to take them."
Male third year law and politics student, Nottingham University
"While I personally find such clubs distasteful, they are legal and no more to be condemned than a boozy night out. I think the fuss that has been made is totally out of proportion and shows a degree of moral intolerance and self-righteousness that is considerably more disturbing than the incident in question."
Female LLM student, Nottingham University
"I can name quite a few of the lawyers at the firm I will be working for whose regular Friday night haunt is Stringfellows, for Lord's sake. I am not going to go though. Morally acceptable? Morals have nothing to do with the law, especially the practice of it."
Male law student, Warwick University
"I don't remember reading anywhere that lap dancing was illegal. Personally I think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. People go to theatres and lap dancing is no different - it is still acting, albeit on a more 'personal' level - it is only a show. Anyway, it is better than cocaine (nobody seems to pay much attention to the fact that the rich and famous do it all the time - a bit of naming and shaming would be appropriate)."
Male law student, Warwick University
"I'd say, 'If you don't mind, I'd rather not go there. But I've heard of this great new restaurant/bar etc. It's all the rage. Let's go there instead'."
Female second year law student, Nottingham University
"My answer would be no, as I am female and Catholic. I would refuse no matter what pressure was put on me."
Female student, Nottingham University
"The legal profession is perceived to be a bit of a boys' club and this reinforces that. Everyone knows it is a lot harder to make partner if you are a woman and it's not difficult to see why, if all the socialising goes on in exclusively male venues - the golf course included."
Female law student, Warwick University
"There should not be a problem as long as the client is willing. The reverse is true if a client wants to take a lawyer to a lap dancing club. I would decline unless the client had specifically asked to be taken there. I think that paying that amount of money for a lady to dance with next to nothing on is unnecessary. There are plenty of other ways to impress your clients."
Male first year law student, Nottingham University
What would you do if, as a trainee, you were asked by a partner to take clients to a lap dancing bar?