Barrister sues firm over claims that ‘intolerable’ workload ended lucrative career

·2-min read
Joanna Torode (Champion News)  ( Champion News)
Joanna Torode (Champion News) ( Champion News)

Joanna Torode, 46, blames “horrific” working conditions at the London office of international firm Ropes and Gray for a “meltdown” in front of colleagues.

She says she battled an “unrelenting” workload and has been unable to work since being admitted to hospital in April 2018. Ms Torode has now launched High Court legal action against the firm, seeking damages over the premature end of her law career.

The US firm is fighting the case, arguing Ms Torode knew she would sometimes have to work long hours when she took the well-paid job and broke down in tears while “angry” at being passed over whilst other colleagues moved up the career ladder.

Ms Torode joined Ropes and Gray’s Ludgate Hill office in June 2017 as a specialist in financial crime but shortly after arriving there was an “exodus” from her team, her barrister Jeremy Hyam QC told the court in the written claim.

As the only English-qualified lawyer left in the team, she says her working conditions became “chaotic, stressful and pressurised” and she asked for support from her bosses.

“Not only would she frequently be the last lawyer on her floor to leave in the evening, as well as frequently working over weekends, but the ... pressure of her work was significantly intensified given the absence of any effective support,” said Mr Hyam.

“By late November and into early December 2017, the claimant was feeling exhausted and she was showing the incipient signs of major depression with her mood worsening.”

At Christmas 2017, Ms Torode says she was left “visibly upset” and “sobbing” after the news of two colleagues being promoted but not her.

“It was... a clear indication of the fragile emotional state she was in as a result of the unrelenting and overwhelming pressure of work she had been under.”

Ms Torode went off sick in April 2018 when facing a disciplinary hearing for an interview with a journalist, and says the “heavy-handed and disproportionate” conduct of the investigation triggered a “sudden deterioration” in her mental health.

She says she now suffers from a major depressive disorder and is “unlikely to be able to return to work as a lawyer”.

Robert Glancy QC, for Ropes and Gray, denies Ms Torode’s workload was excessive and argued in written filings: “The work that she did in the evenings and to some extent at the weekends was normal for senior City lawyers who were substantially remunerated.”

The firm is also set to defend the appropriateness of its disciplinary process.

Written arguments have been filed in the case, which has not yet come before a judge.

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