Biglaw, Canada

Truth In Advertising: Firm Jokes About Working Associates Like ‘Slavies’

Slave trading fort, or law firm recruitment fair?

Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg is one of the most respected law firms in Canada. It’s consistently ranked highly on the Chambers list, and the firm has a low partner-to-associate ratio.

Obviously, if you are going to be a top “Biglaw” firm, even in Canada, a lot of your employees are gong to work hard. Very hard. Sled-dog pulling an “adventurer” around the tundra hard.

Apparently on law school campuses in Canada, people who work at Davies are called “Slavies” because of how hard they work. That’s cute.

So the advertising people at Davies decided to have a little fun with the moniker. Now some people are calling the ad insensitive to, I don’t know, slaves I guess? Canada is weird…

Here is the allegedly offensive ad:

I mean, it’s kind of funny. It’s Biglaw. You’re going to work your fingers to the bone. When I was working late, I used to start singing negro spirituals. “Nobody knows… the documents I’ve seen. Nobody knows what’s unresponsive.”

The blog Law is Cool has been following the fallout:

As you can imagine, outrage ensued. Especially worth reading is Osgoode Hall’s Kisha Munroe, who stated in a letter to Obiter Dicta on January 16, 2012,

“That Davies saw fit to run an ad invoking the shameful, genocidal, dehumanizing practice of forced, unpaid, lifelong labour and suffering that was essential to the power the Western world now enjoys is despicable.

What is even more offensive is that the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, is still alive and well with regard to disparities in access to employment, education, wealth and justice that the descendants of slaves still suffer. It is beyond distasteful for them to jokingly compare the rarified privilege (however rigorous) of working at a Bay Street law firm with this history.”

Jesus! Slavery was bad, I get it. But the Davies ad isn’t saying it views new recruits literally as slaves. I’m pretty sure that would be illegal! Can’t we all at least agree that that the Davies ad was just a simile? An analogy? A figure of freaking speech?

In any event, Davies was quickly beaten into submission and offered this apology:

The intent of the advertisement was instead to try to suggest that the nickname students have used for our firm for many, many years should not dissuade students from considering applying to us for summer or articling positions. We were aiming for some self-deprecating humour. It did not occur to our team that we would be seen as making light of slavery, rather than simply poking fun at ourselves. Obviously it should have.

We thank those who brought this to our attention and accept their criticism. We sincerely apologize to those who were offended. We will not run the advertisement again.

Frances Mahil
Director, Student Affairs
Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP

There’s nothing obvious about this at all. I don’t understand why slavery and the Holocaust are the two things nobody can make a damn analogy to. “Ooh, college athletes compared their situation to slavery, a pox on them.” “Elie said ‘lobster holocaust,’ roast him.”

Slavery and the Golocaust happened. They sucked. And somewhere a Native American is wondering whether he’d own the Dakotas if only somebody had come up with a better name for destroying a people and stealing a continent.

You know who I think “makes light” of slavery? The people who think all black people who haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps by now are lazy or stupid — even though they’ve only been legally allowed to have boots as nice as white people’s for 50 years.

And as slavery analogies go, sorry, but the Biglaw one is pretty funny. It’s funny because associates do work really hard. And it’s funny in part because law firms have a reputation for being horribly insensitive to personal concerns. There’s an irony there that Law is Cool seems to miss:

The lack of sensitivity by major law firms, especially at the decision making level, should actually be used to hold them accountable. Apparently Davies LLP was not concerned enough about dissuading minority students from applying to summer or articling positions. And rather than realizing that the strenuous hours and unrealistic work assignments that have fostered the negative reputation should be an incentive to change the firm culture and create better internal supports, the firm still thinks it’s reasonable to flaunt this reputation as “learning experience” akin to “slavery.”

Strenuous conditions. Unrealistic assignments. Racial insensitivity. Flaunting its negative reputation. I don’t know, sounds a lot like slavery to me.

I’m joking, of course, and you can tell I’m joking because I just said working for a firm that pays you whatever ungodly sum of money Davies pays you sounds like slavery. That’s what we call “clear parody” around these parts.

But I’ll end on a serious note: if you are a minority who got your panties in a bunch over the “Slavies” joke, maybe Biglaw really isn’t the place for you, in Canada or anywhere else. You might not be prepared for the prejudiced, racial crap that’s going to be coming at you once you try to actually start working and succeeding in a profession dominated by white people. If Slavies makes you butthurt, wait until the first time somebody disparages your qualifications just because of the color of your skin, only you can’t call them out on it because they’re a client, and your boss will call you “oversensitive” if you reach across the table and shove your binder in his fat f***ing mouth.

If you can’t laugh it off with a Dave Chappelle “this racism is killing me inside” smile, Biglaw can be tough. Just FYI.

These Days the Slaves Fight Back [Law is Cool]

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