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Seriously, did you really expect DLA Piper to tar and feather Nicholas West, one of its U.K. partners, just because he made lewd, offensive comments about women?

As AmLaw Daily reported yesterday, West and his client Richard Scudamore, the head of U.K.’s top soccer league, The Premier League, left a trail of emails studded with heavy-handed sexist remarks. Let’s just say their exchanges about women weren’t exactly high-brow. Here’s a refresher:

West wrote that he had “spent all day fending [Premier League planning and projects director Peta Bistany, whom the pair referred to as “Edna”] off my graphite shaft.”

West, whose biography on the DLA website appears to have been scrubbed of all information, also referred elsewhere to women as “gash” and “big-titted broads.”

So how did DLA handle all this? It played prep school headmaster, issuing the following “we’re awfully disappointed with the lad” statement:
We have concluded that there was a failure to meet the high professional standards in which we take pride as a firm, whilst recognising that these were emails exchanged between friends and accessed without permission. We have accepted Mr West’s assurances that these emails are not reflective of his beliefs and values and that there will be no recurrence of this behaviour.
Maybe I’m an uptight American who doesn’t quite get this kind of boys’ banter, but I find that little wrist slap by DLA management rather unsatisfying. To state the obvious: West is not some paralegal or junior associate but a 50-ish (or older) partner at the biggest (by head count) and highest grossing firm on the Am Law 100, who holds power over men and women who work under him. For someone in his position to discuss women with a client in such a degrading way is outrageous.
But where’s the outrage? Instead, the firm says the emails “between friends” were released without permission (the shame!). Then, the statement shifts to how West has assured everyone (as a gentleman and scholar, no doubt) that he won’t misbehave again.
West also issued a statement of his own: “I sincerely apologise for my actions. In sending the emails in question I let myself, my firm and its clients down.”
That’s nice, but shouldn’t he have publicly (and loudly) apologized to another group: the women at his firm who have to put up with him. I mean, how would you like to be a female lawyer working under West and having him review your work? Awkward would be putting it in the best light. (Speaking of awkward: Janet Legrand, the head of the women’s group at DLA, also is based in the London office. I contacted Legrand for comment, but she declined.)
None of this will put DLA in a good position to get a “top firm for women” award. Not that it was in the running: According to our research, it only has 12.1 percent female equity partners (the average is 17 percent, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers ). Over the years, though, it has tried to pitch itself as a firm that aims to promote women, even hosting a splashy women’s leadership summit every year.

But this West episode can’t be a morale booster for women at DLA. It also seems to confirm a view I’ve often espoused: Firms will tolerate sexism (and most forms of bad behavior)—so long as they can get away with it—particularly if the perpetrator is a big rainmaker.

I can only assume that West is bringing in barrels of rain.

E-mail: vchen@alm.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist