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Firm of the Year 2016: The firms with the worst culture
19 February 2016
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Only 13 firms were deemed to have cultures so impoverished that they merited scores lower than 65%. And, let's not beat about the bush here, Sullivan & Cromwell got just 12%. That's almost certainly definitely the lowest score ever since Sullivan & Cromwell scored 3% for work/life balance and Sullivan & Cromwell scored 0% for firm management.

The Best of the Rest

Meanwhile at HFW (62%), a lawyer says that a recent engagement survey concluded that "over 25% of staff are so disengaged that there is nothing that can be done to 'save them'", and it was "just a matter of waiting for them to leave".  There is also, depending on where you work in the firm, a "blame" culture, which means "most associates are fed up". There are opposing voices, however, with one saying that "most people are game for a laugh".

King & Wood Mallesons (61%) has plenty of defenders, with one worker imploring, "ignore the gossip, this is a strong firm with strong core beliefs, a good support network and aspirations which everyone is included in and will build together". But another lawyer says it is not so great "having to bend over to make the Chinese side of the business happy".

The 50s

Charles Russell Speechlys (59%) is experiencing a ferocious clash of cultures following its 2014 merger. The two sides "still mistrust each other, there is no real unity yet". A pro-Speechlys staffer says, "a hierarchical old boys club culture from legacy CR" is "clashing with the more down to earth legacy Speechlys vibe". Whereas pro-CR staff say the firm is now a "crap place to work", because, "every single partner and manager from the legacy Speechlys side is completely inept". It is "a shame that the CR partners have been too busy counting their cash to notice the Speechly lot wrecking the joint", adds a CR loyalist. The culture that has "slunk its way in from Speechlys" is "toxic", says another. Legacy CR employees "were promised that our relaxed collegiate atmosphere would be preserved but there is a noticeable shift to watching over your shoulder".

    "Finding the very best elements of both firms and making them work effectively together"

A few points lower, Kennedys (54%) is a "factory of low paid non-qualified individuals conducting high volume litigation" (that's according to its own staff, remember). These "overworked poor sods" are "supposed to be 'mentored' by overworked, underpaid solicitors and legal executives who have their own impossibly heavy workloads".

In its favour, Stephenson Harwood (50%), like almost all the firms on even this blackest of lists, is stocked with "a good bunch of junior associates, paralegals and secretaries". Higher up however, it is a "chauvinist environment so kiss goodbye to your career if you are a female". Another says, "basically, staff are treated as resources as opposed to real people". However "Barry from the mail room is an absolute gentleman".

The 40s

At Plexus (44%), "all staff work hard for their clients and despite what the rumour mill likes to spread", and "most people are friendly and approachable". And, thanks to the "utter lack of support staff", lawyers' "typing skills are maintained". The work life balance is also "excellent to the point of stupidity", says one lawyer. "There is often a bolt for the door at 5pm and by 6pm its just you and security". On the unambiguously negative side of the scales, there is a culture "of backstabbing and undercutting, and employees left abandoned by management who fail entirely to stand up for their interests". Plexus "is a firm where employees are used, burnt up, flung out the door and replaced with cheaper and less capable members of staff, who are in turn not trained, not supported, used up, burnt up", and "flung out".  Those with talent "leave as fast as they are able".

"Like many firms", says a staffer, Ince & Co (43%) has experienced a time of change, but is now a "positive and happy place" once more: "a lot of effort has been put in to ensure the staff are happy, and it's worked :)". Yes and no. But mostly no. "Some people here are not total wankers", offers one worker. However, another says that, "we once had unicorns and rainbows", (historically the firm has performed well in the Firm of the Year survey), but the rainbows "were an illusion, much like the covering of an oil slick", and, "as for the unicorn, it was violently fisted before being sold on to the glue factory to help recoup operational cost".

    The saddest deal trophy

The 30s
At Irwin Mitchell (39%), "No mobile phones allowed at our desks means we remain blissfully unaware of births deaths and marriages". Plus, "the clocks are all accurate meaning you can leave the building on the stroke of 5". On the downside,  the case management system "can't case manage", printers "don't work" and staff are "crammed in like battery chickens". It is, says another, a "lads culture" with "most partners being male and boorish". Apparently there is a "Jack the lad who was cleared of a bum smacking incident", but, "we ladies remain wary". Others say it is "a sweat shop" and a "revolving door with senior hires joining and leaving within 18 months". Also, "Your toilet breaks are monitored", claims one respondent: "if you go more than once in the morning and once in the afternoon you are pulled up for it".

The 20s

Staff at BLM (23%) are "very friendly" and it employs "mostly normal people who genuinely want to help one another". And since they "are not replaced" when they leave, "there is room to stretch out on spare desks". An inmate advises that "anyone who gets offered a job at BLM thinks twice (which I presume they will already given the laughable salaries)". They should "only take up a role here if you have no other options. The hours are fine but the pay, transparency, progression and general atmosphere is bound to be much better elsewhere". Another says, "It is very boring. Everyone sits there like it's a morgue".

The Teens

Slater & Gordon (16%) does not have a facetime culture, and there is "no expectation to stay in the office after 5pm". But the "uncompetitive salaries" coupled with "unrealistic targets" means "nobody is motivated to even try to meet them". It is a "low cost environment" in which there are "too many so-called chiefs with posh job titles and no doubt large salaries"  who "don't actually do anything apart from having meetings about meetings".

At Golden Turd Hill Dickinson (13%) there is "lots of partner infighting to survive the insurance crisis". It has resulted in a "downward affect" on workers, with "some partners using staff members to get the dirt on each other".

Meanwhile, at US firm Sullivan & Cromwell (12%), there is "absolute zero respect" for "personal life or personal commitments". Partners "treat junior associates like trainees" and so, with just 12%, it splats into last place.