As you know, many international law firms are affiliated with local counsel based around the world. The magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has an affiliation with a Saudi firm named, The Law Firm of Salah Al Hejailan, or LFSH.
LFSH is hiring a new attorney. The firm sent out an email to the recruiting agencies it works with. But the firm was looking for someone with very specific qualifications. Some might argue that the qualifications were too specific. Here is the email that LFSH sent to recruiters:
We are interested in recruiting one senior Anglo-Saxon lawyer (with 7+ PQE), preferably with Saudi, but at the very least with GCC work experience to play a corporate/commercial role in our Jeddah office. By Anglo-Saxon we mean of Caucasian ethnicity as opposed to lawyers from the MENA or Asian Sub-Continent who happen to have UK or US nationality/qualifications. Please bear in mind that, as a general legal practice, we expect the successful candidate to have sufficient maturity/acumen to handle a broad range of legal work rather being specialised in one particular field.
We are also keen to recruit one junior Anglo-Saxon lawyer (with 3 – 5 years PQE) for the Riyadh office to support our general corporate/commercial practice. [Emphasis in the original]
I’m a big fan of affirmative action, but it seems like something got lost in translation.
After the jump, both Freshfields, The Law Firm of Salah Al Hejailan, and Salah Al-Hejailan himself, responds and apologizes for the poorly worded email.
Freshfields — which again is affiliated with LFSH but doesn’t have any corporate control over the firm — responded quickly when Above the Law brought the email to the firm’s attention:
STATEMENT FROM FRESHFIELDS:
The recruitment was being conducted by The Law Firm of Salah Al Hejailan (LFSH), not for Freshfields. We were not aware of the recruitment, and clearly do not endorse nor condone the wording in the brief provided by LFSH to the recruitment agency. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is an equal opportunity employer and we actively promote and encourage diversity at all levels within the firm.
An official spokesperson from LFSH also responded and tried to clarify the meaning to the firm’s recruitment priorities:
STATEMENT FROM THE LAW FIRM OF SALAH AL HEJAILAN:
The Law Firm of Salah Al Hejailan (LFSH) is a very diverse organisation. It employs more than 25 lawyers of many nationalities including Saudi, Egyptian, Sudanese, Syrian, American, German, French and New Zealand, and it is firm policy to employ lawyers and support staff from a wide range of nationalities. In this case we were looking for a person who speaks fluent English to a very high professional standard. LFSH accepts that its brief to a recruitment agency should have been more appropriately worded and procedures will be put in place to ensure that communications by any member of its staff in the future are monitored and properly reflect LFSH’s diversity as an organisation.
It’s worth noting that Caucasians are not the only ethnicity that can “speak fluent English to a very high professional standard.” But, mistakes happen. As we understand it, LFSH recently lost one of its attorneys that had a U.S. background and a specific skill set. The firm was looking to replace its former colleague in a market where every job opening gets flooded with resumes.
To his credit, Salah Al-Hejailan has promised disciplinary action against the person that sent the original email, and is going to take a deeper look into how firm employees can be trained to avoid mistakes like this in the future. Above the Law received this statement from Salah Al-Hejailan, discussing the incident:
I have seen the job description and it was wrong. It is not representative of my firm which is made up of large diversity of nationality.
I am a noted Human Rights lawyer, a member of the International Advisory Board in New York of Human Rights Watch and decorated by the British Government (as Commander of the British Empire – CBE) as a result of a number of cases, including the British nurses case. See attached link.
The first new set of job description acted without authorization and will be subject to appropriate sanction.
In addition, I will undertake firm-wide training to make sure that this never happens again.
Thank you for bringing to my attention.
Salah Al-Hejailan CBE
An apology and a commitment to further training seems like the appropriate response to this incident. We live and work in a global economy, and in that world a little extra training never hurt anybody.