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The RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2016 winner
22 January 2016
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Burges Salmon and Shearman & Sterling are the joint Firm of the Year 2016.

Over four and a half thousand fee-earners and non-fee-earners in firms across the UK rated their pay, career development, work/life balance and management in the definitive survey of staff satisfaction. They also rated the culture, social life, loos and, integral to any self-respecting office, the quality of the meeting room biscuits.

Shearman & Sterling and Burges Salmon both scored a tremendous 84% overall, the highest in a field with an average mark of 69%. They represent the pinnacle of two very different types of law firm. At US outfit Shearman, the wage compensates for marathon sessions in the office. At Bristol-based Burges Salmon, the quality of life can't be bought.

    The most important award in law 

It is a decade since Burges Salmon was crowned Firm of the Year, and hundreds of staff told RollOnFriday's survey why they are once again the happiest in the land. Émigrés from City firms said "Quite simply, it is a firm run by humans that treats you like humans". If that sounds like faint praise, "it really isn't - having spent six years at a Magic Circle firm run by robots who treated you like cattle it is a very pleasant change". The work/life balance "is as good as you're realistically likely to get doing the kind of work we do", said another.

Staff applauded the abandonment of "plans for world domination". There "seems to have been a realisation within management", says one lawyer, "that we have chosen to live in Bristol and want both City quality work AND a Bristol lifestyle". Which means, says another, "I can actually afford to own a house and support a family, whilst having a 15 minute cycling commute".  Though it can be difficult explaining to clients that "you don't have to be headquartered in London to provide the legal services they expect".

It is, say staff, a "genuinely friendly" place. "Everyone smiles as you walk past them", says one. "I've been given a lot of support and flexibility" says a maternity returner, "which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about the firm". She was far from alone.

A Burges Salmon lawyer, Monday morning 

Burges Salmon Managing Partner Peter Morris said, "I'm delighted that so many of our people participated in this survey and even more delighted that they seem to recognise that we are trying hard to make Burges Salmon a truly great place to work, even if we sometimes fall short of their expectations. This will always be a work-in-progress".

Shearman has now held the top spot for a very impressive two years in a row, despite being a very different beast to BS. The hours at the US firm can be "gruelling", says one lawyer. "Brutal", says another. The "great" salary, however, "does make up for it", Although wedge alone does not make a winner. While the hours can be "pretty hellish", Shearman's lawyers say that "you're not going to be left here on your own". Plus, the "vast majority" of partners are "understanding and appreciative" of the hard work. It also has more in common with Burges Salmon than might first appear. Staff cite the "close-knit community", the "very friendly" people and, says one associate, the "great quality work without the a**hole culture I've encountered elsewhere".

    Shearman & Sterling lawyers, Sunday night

London Managing Partner Nick Buckworth said, "We are absolutely delighted to be named firm of the year two years running – what a great accolade! To be reviewed so positively by our staff is a real testament to the culture at Shearman & Sterling that everyone in the office plays a key role in creating".

According to the podium finishes, there is a heaven for working lawyers, and it is located 118 miles from London down the M4. Not only is first-placed Burges Salmon based in Bristol, so is bronze medallist Clarke Willmott and silver medallist Osborne Clarke. Over 150 OC staff helped the firm to a fantastic 82% score and into second place. They praised it for its "lack of hierarchy", "balanced outlook on life" and "amazing people", and scored its culture 95%, the highest-rated in the survey.

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you for taking part. RollOnFriday will publish the full results next week.
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