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Firm of the Year 2016: The worst managed firms
12 February 2016
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With many thousands of responses to this year's Firm of the Year survey, a meaty picture of what staff think of their benevolent management has emerged. And while many brave leaders scored very well, plenty performed averagely. The worst appear to have spent the last twelve months giving their minions a terrific shafting.

DAC Beachcroft
(64%) sits just the wrong side of RollOnFriday's arbitrary 65% threshold, thanks in part to the associate who says a senior figure is, "a tool". Others give more detail, complaining that "wholly unsuitable" staff are promoted into management positions. Balanced against the brickbats, praise is offered in respect of "decent and honest" communications from the control room, while another says that recent changes at the top have brought a "new sense of purpose and energy". Just beneath it, management at Shoosmiths (63%) is criticised for "constantly bleating about culture and values", while simultaneously hiring a "struck off ex-solicitor just because he could bring a client with him".

Apparently, last year's comparison of Browne Jacobson's leaders to Richard and Judy "ruffled a few feathers". This year, staff are more concerned with a "terrible IT system" which gives every matter two file numbers because the firm has two case management systems, which don't interface. BJ, "would probably hit yearly targets at the end of the first quarter if they sorted that out", says a senior associate.

On 61%, Eversheds top bods are "very open about the direction the firm are taking", says a junior associate. However a senior cites a "policy of benign neglect" which "allows problems to fester". Another senior says bosses are "utterly ruthless",  because "money stays at the upper echelons and doesn't cascade down".

Cascading down into the 50s, Ashurst's use of consultants Bain & Co resulted in "endless rounds of management driven 'strategy' navel-gazing", KWM (55%) gets flak for the "strong China inbound/outbound focus" and Fieldfisher (53%) bosses have a "terrible reputation for secrecy". At DLA Piper, also languishing on 53%, "some elements of the middle management suffer from being sociopathic arse-clowns", says a non-fee-earner.

    "You think it's easy in HR looking like this?"

Rumours that Olswang (50%) is seeking a merger partner, any merger partner, may alleviate concerns that the new management has, "no strategy apart from cutting costs". Following the recent exits of foreign offices and key partners, say lawyers, "there doesn't yet appear to be a clear plan for the future or any sign of lateral hire replacements". Others say there is a "feeling that the firm has lost its direction", and that the partnership is "fraught with politics and bitchiness, causing some partners to act like children".

Also on 50%, Stephenson Harwood's, "awful new website with funereal photos of badly-posed lawyers" is "symptomatic of the dreadful management of the firm", says a senior associate. Another claims there is, "bullying and psycho management", while a third says, "no thought is put into training people into managerial positions". Two years after the partners, "sacked basically all the secretarial staff in a brutal cull", a fourth says they remain, "appalled at how ruthless the management could be".



The merger between Speechly Bircham and Charles Russell (43%) has not gone terribly smoothly according to the majority of respondents. A senior associate says there is, "virtually no communication" from the top, while another says that management is, "much like the Illuminati. Some people think it exists but nobody has solid proof". One point below, at shipping firm HFW (42%) there are "some knobs" in positions of power, but sadly "not the delicious oat biscuit kind".

Plexus scores 32%, with the collapse of owner Parabis and the reappearance of some of its management to run Plexus causing some concern (a "disaster"). Others rue the "lack of communication" during the transfer while, on a day-to-day level, a trainee says managers are often "woefully incapable of their own roles", which "perhaps explains why they don't do anything".

Staff at Ince & Co say their bosses are "about as effective as a chocolate teapot". Meanwhile, BLM (28%) is slated for "terrible communication from the top" and for being "about as dynamic as a slug". According to one associate, "their idea of innovation is to produce sheepish videos of their latest Numpty idea". Another says there are partners in the Manchester office, "who believe that scanning post to save onto the CMS is against the data protection act", as is taking work home or emailing it. "Basically, every advancement since 1990 is against the rules which is why we're almost 20 years behind everyone else".

    BLM partners have rejected the last few OS updates

At Irwin Mitchell (26%), fourth from bottom, management has made "a real effort to engage with staff and improve working conditions since we won the Golden Turd", says one employee. Judging by its score, it has not been given credit for its attempts. A junior associate says "a number of bosses are either obese or clear-cut psychopaths", whose teeth, worryingly, "are clearly not grown from their own mouths". A partner says the equity partners are "greedy" and that, "like animal farm", they are, "governed by a bunch of well-fed ruddy-faced pigs". A junior says the chiefs are "truly odious", and that she has seen them "drunk and asleep in meetings". The "ongoing embarrassment of a court of protection lawyer and a Scottish debt collector running business services," says a partner, "makes the firm a laughing stock".

Hill Dickinson, the Golden Turd, came third last with 10%. Partners "are untouchable" while "staff are expendable", complains one lawyer. Others agree, citing, "shocking management of underperforming partners". The firm has "no balls to make the right decisions that would benefit the business and the staff working for these slackers". The belief amongst staff that senior figures purchased "50k+ cars" just before making swathes of employees redundant did not help its score.

Slater & Gordon, on a pathetic 3%, boasts "incompetent" management, says a non-fee-earner. A 5+PQE says the bosses are "money-grabbing". Another says there is "no supervision". S&G is the only firms to regularly make the mainstream press for its management decisions. And not in a good way. Purchase of the controversial Quindell business for AUS$600 million is the "elephant in the room", says a lawyer, while "losing 9/10ths of its stock value" and bringing "too many firms together too soon" has not impressed them, either. An "organisational mess", says another.

Right at the bottom, with an unbeatable nil points, sits US firm Sullivan & Cromwell. There "isn't a single aspect of the firm that is properly organised or structured", says an associate.

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anonymous user
12/02/2016 08:31
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I've no doubt that Sullcrom is an horrific place to work, but 0%? How do you even get 0% for management? Do the London employees turn up in the morning to find that the office has been locked and the guy with the only key has accidentally taken it with him back to NYC? Does he then blame his associates for not reminding him to leave it with the security guard? Does that then happen everyday?

Sullcrom's London outpost is pretty small, but 0% sounds suspiciously like only one person (maybe two) filled in the RoF survey.
anonymous user
12/02/2016 11:05
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"Sociopathic arse-clowns"... yup the describes quite a few people at DLA.
Jamie Hamilton @ RoF
12/02/2016 11:51
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08:31: we don't give out figures, but it was a significant proportion of Sullcrom's London office.
anonymous user
12/02/2016 12:20
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Regarding BLM; that picture gives the partners too much credit when it comes to the CMS.
anonymous user
12/02/2016 13:00
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You have to wonder about the firms that scored less than Parabis/Plexus.
A firm which went bust, was broken up, sold off to competitors & opponents and STILL left a massive debt. How can you be managed worse than that?!
anonymous user
14/02/2016 13:56
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PI firms like S & G and IM will never do well because they are trying to retain margin in the face of a Government onslaught against the compensation culture. Salaries will come under pressure and they will try and get more output from the lawyers who will not enjoy that experience and show their displeasure by voting in a negative way when they get the chance.
anonymous user
15/02/2016 11:34
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The thing about HD is the culture, false promises, and jobs for the boys. Until this changes nothing will, and other firms I guess are similar in the legal world. The lack of conscience re jobs, lives, families in some is awful and sad. Certain depts have had the same old "leaders" for too long who are stale and untouchable, winning zero new clients - so why haven't they been moved on, moved out, performance managed out in a puff of smoke like others? Jump off, before you sink.
anonymous user
17/02/2016 10:09
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Olswang was and still is a case study of bad management: wrong choices in terms of corporate governance, wrong strategy, wrong décisions as to where to invest and where to reduce costs. Even the well-deserved sacking of their former CEO was poorly managed.