One high-flying law student suffered a’meltdown due to the inordinate workload at her top City firm. She is now suing the company, claiming that stress has ended her successful career.
Joanna Torode (46), a former lawyer and yoga teacher, claims that the London offices of Ropes and Gray, an international law firm, were such ‘horrific,’ she suffered a panic attack and ended up in tears while at work.
Following an “exodus” of colleagues, she was left with an “unrelenting” workload. She often was the last one to go at night. This led to an emotional crash from Christmas 2017.
Since April 2018, she says that her inability to work has prevented her from returning to work.
Ropes and Gray are being sued by the barrister who runs yoga classes for charity in India to raise money for orphaned children.
According to court documents, her claim is for at least £200,000. But, her claim to the City for her “substantial” salary is expected to reach into the thousands.
Though it is not clear what the experienced barrister’s salary was, newly qualified lawyers at the firm’s London office earn as much as £147,000-a-year, plus bonuses.
US-based firm, located in Boston, Massachusetts is challenging the damages bid. It claims that Ms Torode, being a highly-paid City lawyer, was not expected to sometimes work long hours.
They also denied that her work load was too heavy. This suggests that she was “over-focused” on promotions and that her Christmas tears were only because other colleagues advanced up the career ladder.
Joanna Torode, 46, is a former lawyer and yoga instructor. She claims that the London offices of Ropes and Gray, an international law firm, were so horrible, she suffered a panic attack and ended up in tears.
Ropes and Gray is being sued by the barrister who runs her own yoga studio.
Ms Torode’s barrister Jeremy Hyam QC outlined her claim in a writ to the High Court. She stated that she had started working at Ropes Gray’s Ludgate Hill offices on June 2017.
As a specialist in money laundering and financial crime, she joined the firm as an employed barrister to join its ‘government enforcement team’.
Two-and-a half months later, however, her colleagues left for another company.
This left Ms. Torode of Whitechapel in east London as the English-qualified attorney on the team. She was then faced with a’substantially higher workload and increased responsibility’, says the QC.
She described her working environment as ‘chaotic and stressful’.
Ms Torode’s (pictured), barrister, Jeremy Hyam QC describes the claim in a writ she filed with the High Court. She claims that she started working at Ropes and Gray’s Ludgate Hill offices June 2017, according to Jeremy Hyam QC.
He says, “She would be often the last on her floor, working in the afternoons, and was frequently the one who had to go home at night.” The intensity and pressure she felt during her work increased due to the fact that there wasn’t any support from junior or senior lawyers and a lack of teamworking.
“By the end of November 2017 and early December 2017, the claimant felt exhausted, and her mood was worsening.
Ms. Torode was expecting promotion in the firm. But, at Christmas 2017, she was informed that two of her colleagues would be promoted.
He continued, “The claimant was clearly upset and burst into tears by the news.”
“Her apparent upset and sobbing was an important event, which went beyond a short loss of control.
“It was observed by other people and it was an indication of her fragile emotional state due to the relentless and overwhelming work pressure she was under.
“It was obvious or ought to have been apparent that the claimant was in danger of serious mental deterioration if she did not receive the appropriate assistance with her work and her responsibilities.”
Ropes claimed that Gray’s reaction to the incident was that Gray, though she was competent enough to become a partner in her firm, was too emotional and could have adverse effects on Gray’s chances of getting promoted.
After being informed that she was going to face disciplinary proceedings for giving an interview to journalists, Ms. Torode went on sick in April 2018. It is believed the interview could have been taken as critical about a client.
According to Mr Hyam, Ms. Torode didn’t realize that her remarks could be taken as criticism against the client. She also said that the interview was given at a time she was having trouble coping with the demands of her job and at risk of losing the ball.
In April 2018, Ms. Torode was told that she would be subject to a discipline hearing. She had given an interview to a journalist and it was believed the interview could have been taken as being critical of a client.
Her ‘heavy-handed and disproportionately conducted’ disciplinary investigation had led to her being placed on suspension and threatened with dismissal. This caused a sudden deterioration in her mental state, which resulted in her being admitted to hospital.
Ropes and Gray accused Ms. Torode of being the cause of her illness. Gray said, “The negligence, breach, or breach of statutory duty of the defendant was either caused by, materially contributed to, the claimant’s mental illness.
The claimant…now has major depressive disorder that is recurrent and treatment-resistant, moderately severe with no psychotic features, and moderate to severe anxious distress.
“She will not be able return to her job as a lawyer… The claimant is unable to continue practicing the profession she chose.
She is not likely to be able to find work again as a lawyer, and she has experienced a substantial loss in earnings.
Robert Glancy, QC for Ropes and Gray, defended the claim. He denies Ms. Torode had a burdensome workload, especially for a highly-qualified and experienced lawyer with a substantial salary and bonus.
He says that the work she performed in the evenings, and sometimes on weekends, was not unusual for senior City lawyers, who are substantially compensated, and is neither abnormal nor excessive.
The claimant should or knew that, as an experienced City lawyer she was, she might be required to work weekends and evenings.
It is denied, however, that claimant’s work load, in either the quantity or complexity, was too much or excessive for a senior attorney who was receiving a significant salary and bonus in a City-based firm.
“In particular, it’s denied that the circumstances in which claimant worked were chaotic, unduly stressing, or too pressured.”
Although she had not requested more staff for the work load, she was ‘excessively focused and unrealistically obsessed with promotion’ as part her desire to ‘build her team’.
She was surprised when she heard that her promotion was being withdrawn at Christmas 2017.
He says that the claimant’s response to receiving this information was to get frustrated, angry, and upset when she didn’t get what she desired or believed she had to have.
She became angry and frustrated when she found out that her two coworkers were promoted at Christmas.
According to the QC, despite the fact that claimant could have shed tears it cannot be said that claimant’s reactions can properly be described as a meltdown’ or a substantial event that caused a loss of concentration beyond a short time.
The claimant is exaggerating the details of these…
It is denied that the “event” indicated that claimant was experiencing a fragile state of mind. Further, it is also denied that claimant experienced any overwhelming or unrelenting pressure.
Although the claim and defense documents were filed with the High Court in London (pictured: Royal Courts of Justice), the case is still pending before a judge.
He claims that the disciplinary action taken after her interview was conducted was the right and rational response to an alleged gross error in judgment.
Although she was aware that interviewing should be done after informing PR, she said it anyway.
“In these circumstances, the suspension of claimant was justified. The defendant did not have any knowledge of claimant’s precarious mental condition at that time.
Although the claim and defense documents were filed with the High Court of London, the case is still pending before a judge.
MailOnline reached out to Ropes & Gray for comment.