Last and least in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Survey 2019 for culture were firms that staff accused of humouring quarrelling partners and a sense of aimlessness.
Infighting was rife at the poor-performing firms, according to respondents. At Norton Rose Fulbright (53%) a lawyer said there was "open warfare between partners" - although "associates get along". A Norton Rose Fulbright lawyer said that recent mergers were to blame for a "cultural shift in the last few years". The hitherto friendly atmosphere was being "eroded" by "the relentless focus on profitability and billing", he said. A junior solicitor said the firm was "very confused...It's worse than your neighbour going through a mid-life crisis who just bought himself some spicy new wheels".
Oh hai, fancy a merger?
At HFW (56%) "there really is nothing collaborative" about the "bunch of sole practitioners" at the firm, said a solicitor. "Partners will go to great lengths", she said, "to steal each others' work and keep other partners out of deals they should be on". As a result, "it makes it difficult as a mid-level associate to progress and is difficult to tolerate". Another lawyer at HFW also took aim at squabbing seniors poisoning the atmosphere. "Partner behaviour at the equity partner level is very poor and this spills down", he said. "They are very rude to one another and to associates and others."
The firm's top tier was also blamed at Shoosmiths (41%) where a partner claimed that the firm's leadership had a negative impact on its culture. While his team "is amazing and the level of trust and collaboration is impressive", the management and partnership council "are breathtakingly incompetent". He said the firm's strategy was no longer branded as "business improvement" which he felt was "on the basis that they expect the business to deteriorate rather than improve".
At BLM (51%) a junior lawyer lambasted the firm for trying to "manufacture" a culture. "No one is happy being there", they said, claiming that "sad xmas jumper days" weren't "going to cut it". A colleague said the firm was afflicted with an incredible shrinking Christmas part, which had "gone from The Hilton two years ago to some grotty cocktail bar this year".
At bottom of the league Watson Farley & Williams (25%), an NQ felt that the firm's culture was disintegrating. It "can't seem to decide what sort of firm it is", he said. "Are we a firm that beasts its lawyers but they get extremely well paid? Or where the work life balance makes up for comparatively lower remuneration?" The conclusion: "at the moment it's the worst of both worlds". A WFW solicitor said "we had a reputation as a small, collegiate firm, but since the financials have been sinking, that culture has been tossed out the window in favour of a more cutthroat environment".