Law firm management need to post fewer crappy videos and talk more to their staff, according to respondents in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey.
Those are just two observations gleaned from the thousands of lawyers and non-fee-earners who rated their firms between 50% and 80% for management, landing them between the top ten and the bottom ten in the squeezed middle of the management category.
Communication was key to winning over staff's hearts and minds. "In London at least", said a senior solicitor at Clifford Chance (72%), which came top of the Magic Circle for management, "senior management is visible, approachable and make every effort to clearly communicate the firm's strategy". "It feels like the reins on the old boys club are starting to fray", added a senior solicitor, citing the "Great move to give everyone xmas eve off this year".
"Top management seem generally ok", said a senior solicitor at Linklaters (60%), but the "very cringe" video diaries from the top two "are not what we want to see", ventured a junior solicitor. "A particularly awkward moment was when Charlie aggressively slaps Gideon on the back during their 'Christmas message' video", said one lawyer. "I'm quite sure that would have left a red handprint for some days afterwards". "Gideon and Charlie seem to make an actual effort to keep us informed re what's going on", said a trainee. "But the videos they keep posting on the intranet are like watching your dad try to go viral on youtube".
"No slacking!" "I've forgotten my line. Silly me!" "Silly you!"
Irwin Mitchell (68%) was "a lot better than it used to be and moving in the right direction" said a trainee. But there were complaints of idea saturation. "If I get another email about another initiative/objective/strategy that won't actually affect my job in any way, I may scream", said a senior solicitor. A non-fee-earner was blunt in his review of management. "A self-serving, overcrowded group of unaware prats" he said, who "wouldn't look out of place (or any more in touch) in Parliament". "They try", said a sympathetic trainee. "They are rubbish, but they try".
Other firms were judged through the lens of a defining incident. At Charles Russell Speechlys (64%), a barnstorming performance by the chief at Christmas was foremost in respondents' minds. He went "a bit village vicar with his Christmas sermons", said a senior solicitor, and was, said another witness, "met with groans as he makes jokes about farts and football".
"The internal response to the 'metoo'' episode in 2018 was quite shocking", said a senior solicitor of the defining story of 2018 for Baker McKenzie (57%). Managers claimed they didn't know who it was, he said, but "the incident and identity of the perp was widely known", and "how could senior partners not notice a cash payoff in the accounts???" The firm "should lose marks due to poor handling of the harassment incident", agreed a junior solicitor. But, he said, it "has put a lot of effort into trying to make things right", such as a huge internal review, and "does a decent job on most other issues".
All the talk at DWF (62%) was about the heavily-trailed float. "The management's obsession with the upcoming IPO is ridiculous", said a senior solicitor. "All about cash collection pressures so we can brag to potential institutional investors". But that wasn't the only view. "The impending IPO is taking up a lot of management's time quite understandably", said another lawyer.
At Hogan Lovells (66%) the defining incident was the Irwin Snitchell Matter. "The management is good on the whole", said a waggish Hogan Lovells (66%) solicitor, "but we're getting mixed messages from the partnership; one day it's fine to watch porn on your computer and the next day we've all got firewalls". Aside from Prongate, there was praise for London leaders, but US overlords were cited as an issue. "Firm management is undertaken by those in their star-spangled towers, who I doubt could name a city in the UK other than London", said a solicitor.
Plenty of other large firms suffered for the perception of distant management, although respondents recognised that it was a feature of their huge footprint. CMS (63%) "is a behemoth on biblical levels", said one lawyer, whose management, a partner said, was "largely unseen apart from generic firmwide emails or pleas to bill". At DLA Piper (63%), a "tendency towards bureaucracy and badly named management initiatives" was, said a senior solicitor, "perhaps due to DLA's enormous size".
But sometimes it was the little things that left an impression. "We now no longer have bins in our offices", said a respondent at Watson Farley Williams (59%), "so have to pile waste paper and sad, half-eaten desk lunches in boxes". Then there was the "bumbling Christmas party speech plagued with technical difficulties", where "the only moment of clarity" was the MP "telling the bar staff to be quiet". It's not all glamour at the top.