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Firm of the Year 2017: The firms with the best culture
24 February 2017
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Mishcon de Reya and Osborne Clarke have come top for culture in of the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey.

The category strips away the PR to reveal what staff actually experience as their firm's way of life. Those firms which performed well invariably shared management which recognised that a culture was a thing (not a given) and actively worked to ensure it was nurtured (not a given).

Osborne Clarke, which came second in the whole survey, ticked both requirements, with staff lining up to tell RollOnFriday that "culture really is king" at the Bristol firm. Their assessment found a "genuinely caring" and "down to earth" attitude. The "team spirit here is great", said a lawyer, "with a strong emphasis on our well-being". "When my son was critically ill in hospital", said a non-fee-earner, "my boss and the wider firm were unbelievably supportive". OC people, said a senior associate, "treat everyone with respect and courtesy. That shouldn't be a point to note but it is in this profession sadly".

It was noted at Mishcon de Reya, where there was an "emphasis on people being nice and treating others with respect", while "demanding serious commitment at the same time". A lawyer said it was "reassuring to see that this is a genuine aspiration for the firm, and not just corporate bullshit".

City IP boutique Bird & Bird and regional firm Mills & Reeve followed closely behind with 93%. 2Birds lawyers said the "welcoming and inclusive" culture was assisted by the architecture. The new offices "have lead to everybody becoming very zen", and there was "literally an open door policy as we don't have doors any more in our new building". Lawyers "can always go and ask anyone at any level any question, no matter how stupid you think it may be".

Lawyers at Mills & Reeve said its culture "could not be a better blend of ambition and support" and identified that while "many firms talk about culture", M&R "actually means it". It is "something that the firm really values and takes care to cultivate". That cultivation, said a solicitor, resulted in incidents like the lateral hire "saying it was remarkable, but he hadn't 'yet met a shit'".

On 91%, Firm of the Year 2017 Burges Salmon's culture "is really what it is all about". It "is ingrained in Burges Salmon staff that being friendly and courteous is one of (if not THE) most important things we do". As such, said another solicitor, "people at all levels are treated with respect. The greatest sin would be to be accused of discourtesy to an underling, or being uncollegiate". Apparently the "lack of enforced hierarchy, brown nosing and back stabbing" came as a shock to "some City law firm emigrants". An associate said, "I used to think that talk of there being a collaborative atmosphere at the firm was just a marketing cliche", but "since becoming more senior I see every single day" how it "has become the standard" amongst the partners After "experiencing a number of other firms and cultures, I am very happy to be back in the fold".

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The "rumours are true" about the "beautiful people" at Travers Smith. It "is a collegiate firm and proud of it". Its 88% score bears out the claim. Travers "has a good reputation for its culture and it's well deserved", said a lawyer, "I've never been happier in a job. And while I do look slightly wistfully at the salaries offered by the big US outfits I'm not remotely tempted to jump ship". If further persuasion was needed, a colleague said, "I joined recently from a US firm and have no regrets". There was "a genuinely happy atmosphere around the place", and the "default position" at Travers "is to treat people with respect and make a point of telling them when they've done good work. That makes a big difference to your working day".



Almost two dozen staffers used the word "friendly" to describe Baker & McKenzie, flying high on 86%. It "sounds warm and fuzzy", said an NQ, "but it is genuinely a collaborative and constructive place to work". A lateral hire said "I'm so glad I made the move to Bakers. I've never had so many "thank you"s before in my career". Summing up the masterplan, a non-fee-earner said the culture at Bakers was "second to none and is a key piece of our strategy to take over the world (in a friendly way...)"

Shearman & Sterling 
was the top US firm with 85%. A lawyer said, "I have worked at other US law firms and a Magic Circle firm and I can honestly say that Shearman is by far the best place I have worked", largely because "the people are normal and although everyone works hard there is a degree of empathy and understanding that I have not seen at other firms". Its culture is "very relaxed and people are genuinely nice", said others, and while "we often have to work late, you always feel part of a team". "Ok, so other US firms pay more", said a lawyer, "but I doubt they have the same working environment and collegiate culture as we do". 

Taylor Wessing drew level on 85%, with some staff vouching for a "cracking" culture where "everyone on the whole is very friendly". Despite lots of high marks, the staff opting to leave comments were more critical that complimentary, saying that management inculcated a "culture of fear where even the equity partners are disenfranchised and have no real voice".

Stephenson Harwood, Hogan Lovells and BLP shared tenth place. HogLove "is still full of a lot of kind, considerate people", and boasted a "great team spirit" and a "real collegiate feel about the place". There was a "surprisingly decent cock:legend ratio", said one associate, while others vouched for a culture of "work hard, but not at the expense of your family and social life". Apparently, "you will not beat its culture at any other large City firm". At BLP, non-fee-earners pushed the firm up the scoreboard, praising its "very friendly and open environment" where partners "chat to everyone regardless of rank".

Lots of other lawyers were also happy with their firm's 'tude. Culture was rated more highly than any other category, with a field-wide average score of 76%. As the firms with the worst cultures demonstrated, however, there were exceptions.

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