Eversheds originated as a tie-up in the 1980s between four small firms in Norwich, Birmingham, Cardiff and Newcastle. It expended to become a national stalwart, then in the 2000s added international offices, before the big one: a merger in 2016 with a US firm which prompted the adoption of its current name, Eversheds Sutherland.
It wasn't always onwards and upwards at the firm. It won a Golden Turd in the RollOnFriday Firm Of The Year 2010 Survey by a country mile after making a massive number of staff redundant - 735 in all during 2008/09. And whilst it's possible that the firm had needed to do this for years, its then London senior partner didn’t need to send an email pointing out that he was sharing in everyone’s pain by foregoing pudding, and paying the bare minimum statutory redundancy was frankly shameful.
But the firm has turned things around. Financials recovered, offices were added. In looking to expand, the firm courted US firms, eventually netting Sutherland Asbill & Brennan. Sutherland was a far smaller firm than the Shed, but it offered what the UK firm coveted: a foothold in the US.
While Eversheds' slightly clumsy vision - to become "a great place to work and the most client-centred international law firm" – looked dead in the water in 2010, it has fared better with staff in subsequent Firm of the Year surveys. Eversheds staff are generally described as a "friendly and normal" bunch, with relatively few "stuck up law-types". The firm comes in for praise with its "huge range of client and international secondment opportunities". And for those in the UK that don't fancy the big smoke there's "good quality work in the regions".
The firm encourages junior staff to take on business development and awards "a bonus for successful initiatives". One lawyer praises the firm for being innovative with various projects, although noted that it "sometimes tips over into novelty for novelty's sake". However a slightly more cynical lawyer says there is a "huge amount of corporate bullshit" adding "if I had a boss who didn't see through it, I couldn't handle it". Whilst another complains that the firm "couldn't spell innovation, let alone deliver it".
While the firm is definitively mid-market, it has some stand-out practices including its public sector group, which has advised the MoJ on the expansion of prisons and regional development agencies on around £400m worth of EU-financed funds. Pensions and employment are also fast-growing areas. Although Eversheds' failure to grab a proper piece of the high-end corporate and finance action in the City - despite concerted attempts to do so - must grate with the firm, even if it's been suggested that the firm is at least starting to wake up from hibernation on that front.
There does appear to be a huge range of flexible working options, from career break to reduced hours, remote working and job sharing. Although one lawyer claims that the firm "talks the talk but definitely does not walk the walk in flexible working - you're definitely assumed to be slacking if you work from home and it's implicitly discouraged". Presumably Covid has knocked away that assumption.
The reaction to the US merger could best be described as positive-to-ambivalent. One solicitor said it "has had very little impact from a UK perspective", although it was "encouraging to see the network expanding". Even before turnover crossed $1 billion, staff were suggesting that it should probably, surely, definitely pay staff more moolah. But, "You know what, when they're good, they're very good people", said a junior solicitor. "Everyone who leaves for bigger and better things always says they'll miss the people. And they do when they realise quite a lot of places have much worse pricks than the occasional bad apples here. And we often miss the leavers too. Because we're nice".
"Some of the dinosaurs have now gone and the hierarchy feels almost invisible," said a senior lawyer in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 survey: "you can have a chat with a partner like you would chat with a PA or a peer."
And in February 2019, the firm announced it would pay back to staff the salary reductions made under the 'Flex Scheme' that operated from June to November 2020, during the pandemic, when less busy lawyers were able to voluntarily take a reduction in hours to 80% for a commensurate drop in pay.
Staff seemed generally positive about the firm's conduct during Covid: "Received just a small bonus this year following COVID but grateful to be getting anything at all!!" said one lawyer. "It's not stellar but it could be a lot worse, especially at a time when people elsewhere are losing their jobs", agreed a junior solicitor. One lawyer was keener on encouraging a battle, though: "Regional 1PQE on £46,250 is pretty underwhelming", he said, and "although I can appreciate that's explained in part by a difficult 2020", a "regional pay war is the order of the day!"
Here's what people said in the RollOnFriday Best Firms to Work At 2022 survey:
In London, they think the regions get paid too much. In the regions, the reverse. "The disconnect between pay in London and the regions is increasingly hard to justify or accept", said a regional lawyer: "NQs in London now paid around the same as 10+PQE lawyers in the regional offices - despite the fact that we are now being charge out at London rates on the majority of projects". Apparently there was "massive discontent at the gap between regional pay and London given that in the pandemic a lot of the London lawyers have gone home to mummy and daddy!"
Whereas the lawyers in London/@mummy& daddy's said, "The pay is falling behind, particularly in London. The impression amongst staff if that the firm has no plan on how to balance competitive London salaries with the reality of bloated regional offices doing low margin work".
One lawyer expressed the view that ES "are slaves to banding so really hardworking and overachieving individuals are left to receive the same pay as everyone else". Others said "Pay rises have been solid but not kept pace with revenue and profit growth", and the overall feeling can probably best be described as: "Good but could be better".
Management "seems to have a good idea about which direction to take the firm", with "a lot of investment in tech and overhauling fee models", said senior solicitors. In fact, "By law firm standards it’s almost unnervingly professional and competent", agreed another.
"I get the impression that the firm is a strong well performing, law MACHINE", said a senior solicitor.
"However, more and more it feels like we're in a FTSE 100 company rather than a law firm and the increasing level of non-law related initiatives/learning/work is tiring".
Ok, the "obsession with data and metrics is excessive", conceded a partner, but "the firm is generally well managed".
There was frustration with the speed at which progress was possible, specifically the lack of it. "Stagnant", said one lawyer, who explained that it "Entirely depends on how profitable the practice group is at half year. So you don't have time to apply when swept off your feet, but there's no room at the top when you aren't".
"I have been supported in moving 'up the ladder'", countered a senior solicitor, "but it has taken a while to receive work of a quality that actually matches my level of experience".
"I am only satisfied with my career development as I have been given two excellent client secondments and get to work for a brilliant partner", said a junior solicitor: "The associate training programme is not really fit for purpose".
A partner opined that, actually, "The firm gives you lots of opportunities to progress".
"Long hours at times but could be much worse", said one lawyer.
"Mid-week plans are a hard no go, as is anything around the house", said a colleague. But, "I do get weekends", they said, plus "The firm really is all about flexibility, and was way ahead of the curve on that one - we were flexing days and hours for years pre-COVID".
Eversheds Sutherland "really sell themselves on their work life balance", agreed a colleague, although "this does not reflect the reality for many associates in certain teams". Partners said "It's a work life tension", and that where it exists, "clients not the firm cause the imbalance".
The culture "Has become very corporate", but that was "Not necessarily a bad thing", said a senior solicitor. Covid may be partially responsible: "Not much social activity these days. I hope that improves", said a colleague. "There has been a struggle to create a culture post-covid", agreed a lawyer.
Where it has survived, it has its fans. "I am happy with the culture. I think the firm has set the standards for cross-office work which is one of the main advantages of being at ES. Most of all, everyone is free to voice their opinions on the day-to-day running of the firm without any threat of a backlash that you might get elsewhere", said a senior lawyer. "Jumps on every woke bandwagon possible", griped another. Giving a positive take on that, a colleague said that at ES, "D and I is more than just words, nowadays", and there had been "Massive strides on social mobility last 2 years".
More importantly, though, "In stark contrast to other firms’ offerings the canteen is stacked with foods which is much lower quality, but costs the same as Pret". So watch out for that.
NB - the salaries listed are for London, not the regions where, for example, trainee salaries are approx. £10k lower, and NQs may be paid £42k.