April Fool's Day: Law firm apologises to staff after fake memo saying they would not receive emails in evenings

The April Fool’s message, titled 'Important New Email Policy', was sent out on Wednesday morning to employees of Weil, Gotshal & Manges

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The Independent Online

A major international law firm has apologised to its own staff after some reacted badly to an April Fool’s Day memo saying they would no longer be sent emails in the evenings and weekends.

The April Fool’s message, titled “Important New Email Policy”, was sent out on Wednesday morning to employees of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which boasts 1,200 lawyers in 20 offices around the world.

The firm, which has expertise in corporate, finance and bankruptcy law, is headquartered in New York but has a large office in Holborn, central London.

The prank email on 1 April stated that, in a drive to improve work-life balance in a notoriously demanding industry, email would “not be transmitted” between 11pm and 6am, at weekends or while staff were on holiday.

“All emails during this time will be automatically responded to with a message that the recipient is on vacation and not receiving emails, and the name, email address and telephone number of a designated substitute for the duration of the vacation,” it added. “We are proud to be taking a leadership role in caring about our colleagues’ quality of life.”

 

The implication that work-free weekends and evenings are a laughably absurd idea – and therefore a suitable subject for an April Fool’s spoof – did not go down well with some hard-pressed staff.

The memo was leaked to US legal website Above The Law, which quoted several disgruntled Weil’s employees. Some reportedly believed the email to have been genuine at first – only to react with fury when they realised their employer was making light of their out-of-hour workloads.

One described it as “the worst joke of all time… especially to someone like me who has been billing 12 to 16‑hour days recently and gets a lot of late-night and weekend emails”.

Another unnamed Weil’s lawyer accused the company, which boasts an annual revenue of more than £1bn (£673m), of “making a mockery of our hard work”.

It did not take long for Weil’s executives to realise they had misjudged the mood of their workforce. At 3.11pm, Barry Wolf, the firm’s executive partner, sent a message to all staff again to apologise for the email; he insisted the firm was committed to managing their work-life balance.

“This email was the firm’s annual April Fool’s Day message and was intended to be humorous. We obviously got this wrong and we sincerely apologise,” he wrote.

“We know and appreciate the hard work that all of you do. We have to continue to take work-life balance seriously and are always evaluating ways to improve the quality of life here, given the intensity and demands of the profession.”

Many City law firms are starting to take steps to reduce staff stress and burnout, amid growing concern about the impact of the sector’s culture of long hours. Research conducted by Lawyer 2B last year found that stress was endemic in the profession. A Weil’s spokesman declined further comment.

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