Back in the mists of time around the millennium, Fieldfisher was seen as a slightly crusty mid-sized firm. Since then it has managed to develop a marginally more sexy image: it’s now increased its capacity in technology, IP and European regulatory work. It also takes legal geek levels to new heights – in 2007 it was the first (and only?) UK law firm to open a virtual office in the online community Second Life. In 2014 it shrugged off a name from its letterhead Field Fisher Waterhouse to a more streamlined Fieldfisher.
Pay has remained a bone of contention for the firm's staff, although things have improved. Pay is at least now a bit more reasonable (if still not fantastic) - back in 2007 it transpired that newly qualified assistants at Weil Gotshal made more money than newly made up partners at FF…
Lower salaries may have helped cause FF's woeful performance in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2011 survey, where it scraped second to last position, narrowly avoiding Golden Turd status. It flapped about the bottom of the table in 2012 and 2013, but then suddenly rocketed up to fifth place in 2014. An awful lot of very positive responses came from partners praising then-new Managing Partner Michael Chissick. Hmmm.
In subsequent years, there was praise "seriously plush and well-located" London office at Riverbank House, which staff moved into in 2015, and which compared favourable to their old place at the arse end of the City, which was "reminiscent of 1970s Stalingrad".
The partnership is relatively young and diverse. One lawyer says that a "big diversity drive makes it feel like they're trying to actually do something about issues such as the gender divide in partnership, which is very encouraging".
At the more junior end FF claims that it takes a serious interest in the development of junior lawyers - there's a pretty comprehensive training scheme (which you would expect) and many assistants have their own marketing budgets (which you might not). And the firm has done fairly well on trainee retention.
FF has keenly pursued a merger in the past, although so far it's struggled. Talks were held with LG, but they fell apart fairly acrimoniously, with FF being less than kind about LG's financials and LG suggesting FF's partnership was not as united as it might be. FF dusted itself off and set its sights on Osborne Clarke, but OB also gave it the cold shoulder. In a (minor) victory it inked a deal to swallow up eight partner Manchester firm Heatons.
In the RollOnFriday surveys, former Managing Partner Michael Chissick was praised by some for turning the firm around, although pay got a walloping precisely because of the stellar financials. As did the buggy new time recording system. One lawyer recalled a colleague "recording over 7000 (yes, thousand) hours" when "they left their timer running over the weekend unknowingly".
Pay for Fieldfisher partners was "great for those in the inner circle" said a partner. "Everyone else is palmed off with peanuts and promises". A junior associate said that "Despite pushing out numerous articles to the press about the firm's success and pay for the top of equity", pay rises for the rest of the firm "were derisory". The "constant emails to all staff about how well the firm is doing", she said, "only seek to reinforce the resentment". Another said the pay was "embarrassing" and that associates "are leaving in droves" as a result.
Here's what Fieldfisher's people had to say about their firm in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022 survey:
A senior lawyer said there was a "substantial uplift this year following a COVID year long pay freeze" but "the pay is still off-market", which was "slightly grating when the highest paid partner walked away with £4.3m in the same financial year".
"I got a 26% pay rise last year, part of it was a promotion", said another senior lawyer "Confirms just how under paid and taken for granted I was previously!"
Trainees said that, "for a firm of the same size the pay is far behind other City firms at the same level - the reality of expectations on trainees to take on as much work as possible to 'make a good impression' is not reflected in salary at all".
With "the addition of the mandatory 5 days a week working in the office, these lower wages are stretched even further when compared to other colleagues in the firm who are only expected to attend the office 3 days per week".
"Some teams can be a little tardy on promotion but came good in the end", was one lawyer's view, who said, "I do feel like there is a route forward to partnership and support behind me". Others were more critical. "It's common knowledge that senior associates and directors in the Regulatory team are never going to make partner until some of the old wood is cleared out", said one. "Whilst there is a framework explaining what criteria should be satisfied to be promoted, it is not followed and promotion is at the whim of the partners - largely driven by PQE", said another.
Work Life Balance
Good, is the general verdict. "Usually manageable" and "Very good, particularly in relation to salary levels", said lawyer. "WFH has made a huge difference for me" said a senior lawyer. "I tend to work more hours, spread out over the day and at the weekend. I have given myself permission to work flexi time and we all benefit".
"I pretty much work when I want" agreed a junior lawyer. "Provided I hit targets and get the work done, nobody cares".
Trainees were not so chuffed with the post-Covid arrangements (which, it should be noted, may change as pandemic concerns drop away). "Trainees are required to come into the office 5 days a week despite senior staff working from home 2-3 days a week", complained one. "The work-life balance does not extend to trainees", agree another: "Despite the HR team emphasising that the firm encourages a greater work-life balance with shorter working hours and lower targets for billable hours, in reality in order to create a good impression and prove commitment as a trainee colleagues will expect trainees to stay in the office until later into the night".
"Generally nice people", said the lawyers, agreeing that most of their colleagues were "Really lovely", "supportive", and "friendly". (Although a trainee claimed that junior staff "are treated like children that can’t be trusted").
(NB: the listed salaries are for London. NQs in Birmingham and Manchester are paid £60,000, while regional first year trainees are paid £30k and regional second year trainees are paid £32,250.)