Could lockdown mean the end of office sexism, bullying, suits and spiky heels, asks the man dubbed the loophole lawyer

Nick Freeman Photo: Getty

Nick Freeman Photo: Getty - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lawyer Nick Freeman (aka Britain’s Harvey Specter) on workplace sexism

The discussion had been going on for what seemed an eternity. A dreary, round-table debate about the pressing matter of… whether the firm needed to buy a new coffee machine.

This was back in the ’80s and I was a partner at a prestigious firm of criminal lawyers. But I soon discovered that with power comes... what? Purgatory: that being part of the top brass also meant enduring regular meetings about whether we should change the font on the company notepaper.

Years ago, as an energised and hungry lawyer, I was asked to help promote the American legal drama, Suits. The programme’s principal character, Harvey Specter (there was also Rachel Zane, played by one Meghan Markle), was a badass corporate attorney – a legal ball-breaker whose firecracker defences and quicksilver mind were window-dressed in monochrome glamour. Apparently, I was the closest lawyer in real life they could find.

I might have shared his determination to win at all costs, but the lead character would seldom appear without a slicked-backed hair out of place – a world away from this ‘hot-shot lawyer’, mulling over papers at home while sporting a five o’clock shadow you could scour pans with.

It’s why I’m hoping, as we emerge from lockdown, that the experience of the past few months will give those in

power pause for thought. That there will be a paradigm shift about how we conduct ourselves at work.

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Online conferences have been the perfect instrument to prick the bubble of self-importance. After all, staccato calls over Zoom – “hello, hello, can you hear me...” – have reduced those who once lived for the suit and the title to a flickering screen image.

Shirts, ties, and spiky heels have been mothballed for months, replaced by unkempt rockstar hair and unforgiving grey roots (and that’s just the men). The macho environment has gone; the inclination for performance lost.

In fact, there are many dark aspects of office life I hope will be permanently erased by lockdown. Not least the predators and bullies who enjoyed a spasm of power at the expense of others. It’s not anything I`ve experienced myself. Though long before I launched my own firm, I worked with a woman who found it a huge hoot to pinch my bottom or try to get her hand down my trousers. She used to say it was a joke – though I never saw the funny side. Fortunately I was strong enough to tell her to pack it in. But what of all those people – especially women – who have been subjected to stupid, leering behaviour, even if party manners have improved since the pre #metoo days? Hopefully, humbled by lockdown, such practitioners will have lost the appetite.

I appreciate there are lots of people yearning to get back to the office. They miss the chit chat, the social interaction, the team bonding, the sparking of ideas in real time. But as we enter this new dawn I hope we leave behind the power kicks, petty point-scoring, and needless exercises in self-importance.

Not so much a case of, “can

you hear me?” But more, “are

you listening?”