Staff at half of the 51 firms appearing in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 results felt somewhere between 'neutral' and 'satisfied' with their management.
Lawyers were pretty happy with bosses at joint-17th placing Eversheds Sutherland (74%), where senior leadership was “very proactive” and “messages are generally cascaded down consistently”. A minority characterised those messages as "a fog of corporate bullshit". There was praise for town halls where ”they do take a bit of a grilling" and take the feedback "seriously (or, at least, they appear to!)”.
Bird & Bird (72%) was congratulated for “good international expansion” and for the longevity of its CEO, who’s been in place “for something like 26 years now”, said one awestruck lawyer. “Even Mussolini only made it to 21 years”.
“All run by the CEO”, said some staff at DWF (72%). That was not necessarily a bad thing, said others at the IPO’d firm. “Hard to argue with results”, said one lawyer. "The global success of the firm has been immense over recent years".
“Execrable", was the opinion of a partner at Irwin Mitchell (70%) on its leadership. "Honestly, not a proper commercial bone in their body, any of them. They are all ambulance chasers to the core, hanging around like vultures eagerly awaiting the next human tragedy.”
“Don't get me started”, said a senior solicitor. “If I hear another one of our puffed-up masters from Sheffield tell me ‘where there's muck there's brass’ I will personally lamp them. They have no bloody idea”. But “the results speak for themselves”, said a partner, who recalled that, “After meeting our new head of Real Estate, a colleague opined: ‘Now I know what sort of person soldiers followed over the top!’"
When the Major started taking about rights of light, they couldn't wait to go.
“Sure, there are problems here and there and it can come across as tight-fisted at times”, said a junior lawyer at Kennedys (70%), “but it actually feels like people are halfway competent and have a good strategy for the firm, which seems like a fucking miracle these days”. Management “is always available to throw you under the bus”, countered a senior solicitor, “which is alarming when you work near the bus station”.
A junior solicitor at Plexus Law (70%) accused her firm of “constant boys club cover ups. If you complain about the relentless inappropriate conduct they close ranks, you get a reputation as a trouble maker and they get promoted”. Not always.
Mike Francies “is by far the best London managing partner I have worked for”, said a senior solicitor at Weil (70%). Management “are generally extremely friendly, approachable, impressive in their own right and supportive”, although there "must have been brain aneurysms that have been less painful than the new partner/counsel process".
RPC (69%) also restructured its ranks, and the decision to introduce salaried partners was welcomed. “A proactive strategy is in place and for the first time in six years I feel like I understand what the overarching strategy is”, said a junior solicitor.
Clifford Chance (68%) came top of the Magic Circle for management. There was a “frustratingly slow march towards 50% female partners", said a solicitor, but "there does appear to be a genuine desire within leadership to see change”. Allen & Overy (66%) ”was made to look like chumps when the O'Melveny merger fell through”, grumbled a senior solicitor at the firm.
Over at Slaughter and May (65%), management was deemed “Very effective but mysterious”. Another solicitor admitted, “I don't even know who manages the firm. And I've been here for years.” A lawyer who did know revealed that those in charge were, “Highly competent. Not bad at croquet, either”.
Linklaters (55%) was pulverised over perceptions that management did not think juniors deserved their pay. “Amongst the trainees, many have expressed disappointment that some senior members had openly said they did not think the NQ salary hike was warranted”, said one. The Managing Partner ‘lost a lot of good will complaining about NQ salaries in the FT, and then even more when PEP still had a massive jump despite the grudging increase”, said a solicitor. “It was not very nice that they had that view over junior pay”, said another.
At BLM (54%), "It is better than it used to be under the previous terror, but that it is admittedly a very low bar”. Worryingly, one lawyer says they “Never really hear about new clients. Only those we have managed to keep”. Internal comms was an issue at Burness Paull (54%), too. ”Some of the messaging to staff is way off”, said a solicitor. “Telling fee earners their chargeable hours targets have gone up the day before announcing no bonus seems more than a bit misguided”.
And from there, it only got worse.