Back in the mid-90s, I was looking forward to our firm’s annual Summer bash, to be held at Kensington Roof Gardens:
Naturally, something blew up at work. As the clock ticked half past midnight, knee-deep in an urgent interlocutory, I gave up and, in a fit of first world self pity, walked home late to the West End.
Normal enough though. A friend, also a City lawyer, trapped late at work again, missed her own birthday party. Two years in a row. We all raised a glass in her absences, noting that her absences had helped pay for the fine spreads we had been treated to, of which some scraps may or may not be left over for her on her return from the office the following morning.
I remember being called by a senior lawyer partner at 7am on a Saturday and told to “nip into the office” to “get a letter from a file” and fax it to him. On arrival at the office, a taxi took me to an anonymous location somewhere in Camden.
Turns out the “file”, which I had naively assumed might be a couple of A4 binders or a drawer in a filing cabinet, was actually a couple of corridors in a former WW2 underground bomb shelter. You met this pallid character who looked after the place, and got into a small service lift with a stout metal grille:
I spent the entire weekend down here, looking for a letter from 1972 among thousands of boxes of documents. Dust, paper cuts, zombie syndrome … it was my most Sisyphean trainee moment:
Our addiction to extreme working has created a culture of abnegation of the self. Men and women alike, we humble-brag about the “gym memberships we don’t use”, the “holiday entitlements left un-taken”. And the marriages postponed, because, after all, who has time for a serious relationship when your work day starts at 7am and ends at 1am and where your social life is mostly in wine bars, with other functi0ning alcoholics, as embittered as they are loaded?
And, if you’re a woman, and you do manage to nip out and secretly get married in your lunch break, having babies shortly thereafter can seem doubly disloyal – disloyal to the blokey legal machine that’s paying you, and disloyal to the 4th wave sisterhood who urge you to value and define yourself primarily or solely as an economic unit. How we sneer at the homely “breeders”, with their “brains turning to mush”.
In response, large law firms now are paying women to have their eggs frozen:
“Global law firms Cooley and Clifford Chance have for the first time included fertility benefits within their UK staff benefit packages, which will now include egg freezing and in vitro fertilisation (IVF).” <Link>.
“Put it on your gravestone”, cry City partners and 4th wave Feminists in unison: “Verily, here lieth a great biller”.