This is nothing short of a debacle. When Shoosmiths decided to defer its September 2009 intake of trainees it was not alone; as we reveal today, plenty of firms have done the same.
But the decision not to compensate its future employees has turned into a spectacular own goal.
This isn’t just about the money - Shoosmiths is undergoing its third round of redundancies, so maybe the internal politics of handing out cash to future employees is difficult - although a token couple of grand per trainee would have gone a long way.
What really caused a stink was when Tom Goff and George Roberts, two of the deferred trainees, wrote an open letter in support of the firm. Were Goff and Roberts, as a myriad of posters stated, simply brown-nosing? (Trust me, that’s one of the more polite terms used. There were some postings on that story we didn’t publish, particularly when the playground bullying aspect started getting genuinely distasteful as well as defamatory.)
Certainly, the open letter the two wrote to our sister magazine Lawyer 2B reeked of Stockholm Syndrome. Read this and wince: “We understand that in taking this decision our firm has put itself in the best position to keep providing valuable and competitive legal services in the marketplace, for both current and future clients.”
It sounds as if it was drafted by committee - and, indeed, some conspiracy theorists suspect that Shoosmiths’ PR team was behind the move. As it happens, they weren’t, although the firm was certainly aware that Goff and Roberts wanted to send their statement to Lawyer 2B. You can read the inside track of this sorry tale in our feature, page 16.
But Goff and Roberts should not be the story. They’re 22, for goodness’ sake. They’re naive. They may well regret the letter. But they’re not the worst people to come out of this story by any means.
At no point did the Shoosmiths management publicly declare support for these future employees who, lest we forget, had actually written in support of the firm’s controversial decision to defer with no compensation. Shoosmiths sent a private message of commendation to the pair, but was content to stand by and watch their biggest supporters get pilloried in public. This isn’t about PR. It’s about being human.