Working 5 to 9, what a way to take a beasting.
A recurring source of angst for people working in law firms is the flexible working policies adopted post-Covid, RollOnFriday’s Best Law Firms to Work At 2024 shows, with those keen to stay-away dismayed by increases in manadatory office attendance requirements.
Other staff put their work/life balance in the context of their salary, with some disgruntled comments arising from staff who perceived they weren't being sufficiently paid for burning the midnight oil.
But first, before the comments, the results (drumroll):
1st Russell-Cooke: 88%
Russell-Cooke placed first for work/life balance.
The firm's remote working policy was highlighted by many staff. "Very flexible on working from home," said a senior lawyer. While others pointed to a lack of presenteeism in the office.
Many staff thought they had a good deal with the working hours; or lack of them. "I am not expected to do anything after 17:45 or on a weekend and it is wonderful," said a trainee. "My work phone is a paperweight."
A senior lawyer commented: "Friends at other firms have horror stories about regularly working in the office till after midnight and then starting work again at 8am and I don't know of anyone that has that experience here. "
One partner put the balance down to "a modest time target compared to other firms", adding that although "financial performance is increasingly seen as important, staff are not pressured in the same way I sense they are at larger firms." A senior lawyer agreed: "Nobody here should be complaining about work life balance. If they are - they haven't worked at a big firm."
2nd Bird & Bird: 86%
Bird & Bird flexible policy was highlighted by many respondents as a reason for getting the balance right.
"The firm has an agile working policy which means i have been able to work from home and in the office a 50/50 split which has given precious time with my family," said one member of staff. "When I work from home I finish as 5.30pm and can be present with my family without commuting and arriving home at 7.30pm missing meal and bed time. Agile working has improved the work life greatly."
"Work/life balance is very good at the moment as we are allowed to wfh 50% of the time," said another. "This is great for mental health and gives us the opportunity to do more for the firm - i.e. working late."
Others pointed to the fact that the 50/50 hybrid policy worked for many staff "who now live outside of the typical commuter area". Although some warned that it would "not be well received" if the firm decided to change the policy to 3 or 4 days in the office.
The firm was praised for not just paying lip-service to work/life balance. "My supervisor ensures that she's aware of my capacity levels at all times and asks to be reminded of personal events that may occasionally take priority over work," said a junior lawyer. "Don't think it can get any better than this to be honest - international firm, great money, and I even have a life."
3rd Clarke Willmott, Mills & Reeve: 84%
At Clarke Willmott, flexible working was a key factor for staff satisfaction.
"There is no policy for working from home / office split," said one lawyer. "Colleagues can work from wherever is best for them which helps immensely with work life balance and managing diaries to suit personal appointments / child care."
"I have excellent work, good career prospects, but I get to have dinner with my family every night," said another Clarke Willmott lawyer.
"Excellent work life balance. No expectation as to working late / weekends for the sake of it. Partners genuinely take care to avoid overburdening juniors where possible," said a junior lawyer.
At Mills & Reeve, hybrid working was also highlighted as a plus point. "WFH rules are 50% attendance across two weeks but it is very lax and barely enforced," said one junior lawyer. "We are given autonomy to be responsible for ourselves," said another.
"I am trusted to complete my work and never questioned on the need to be flexible," said another lawyer.
One Mills & Reeve lawyer pointed out that the Cambridge office has passes for the Botanical Gardens next door "Something I thought would turn out to just be a gimmicky perk," they commented, "but after a stressful morning a partner will often try and bundle you out into the gardens to clear your head, and you'll see plenty of staff walking around and doing the same when you're there."
5th Burges Salmon, Michelmores: 83%
A senior lawyer at Burges Salmon said the "excellent" flexible policy meant that they were "only required to attend offices when necessary...rather than having fixed working arrangements", which was "especially good for people with young families."
"No quibbles here - about as good as you can get," agreed another lawyer. "I like being able to pick my kids up from school during working hours rather than leaving them in after-school clubs or being brought up by nannies."
A Burges Salmon partner opined: "The firm's attitude to WLB is spot on," noting "there will always be peaks and troughs. What matters is that the firm permits people to have the troughs and focus on their life for a bit."
At Michelmores, a partner said the firm has "a genuine agile approach - sure I work hard, but I see my kids and weekends are mine."
"Good flexibility for everyone, based on an appreciation that everyone is human and have other ties and priorities outside of work," said a junior lawyer at Michelmores.
"Generally there is a good balance," said a Michelmores partner, "there are periods of intense activity, which you expect given the quality of work we can work on, but it isn't always like this and weekends and holidays are generally protected."
7th Blake Morgan, Harbottle & Lewis: 82%
"I have the flexibility to define when and where I work, which is really valuable to me," said a business services member of staff at Blake Morgan.
"People (clients and Partners) respect weekends and evenings," said a senior lawyer at Blake Morgan. "There's an aspect of it that they know they just don't pay enough to beast people like that without it leading to mass exodus, but if you accept that's the deal, then embracing the up side of it and having a life in the evenings mid-week is great."
At Harbottle & Lewis, a junior lawyer noted: "There are obviously peaks of activity, but generally on the whole - it is good. Working over the weekend is very rare indeed. When you work late, you're often thanked by senior members of your team."
9th Weightmans: 81%
A partner at Weightmans said that the firm's "sensible wfh policy is one of the main benefits" as the requirement is for "only 2 days a week in the office".
"No one feels obliged to stay late and most of the office is gone by 5:30," said a senior lawyer.
10th Birketts, Forsters: 80%
"I have yet to work at the weekend and usually make it home in time to put my kids to bed," said a senior lawyer at Birketts. "There's not much more you can ask for in this profession!"
"My Partner looks out for me and my workload and she doesn't like it if I work late," said a junior lawyer at Birketts. "It is very well balanced so far."
At Forsters, a senior lawyer said: "We work very hard when needed, but when things aren’t manic you can genuinely have a life without being judged."
"It's amazing," said a partner about Forsters' work/life balance. "We start to get worried if associates are in the office past 7.30pm all the time, and would see that as a sign that something needs to be addressed. Of course there are crazy hours in the run up to trial or a big completion, but it's not the norm. The firm has fantastic social culture too, plenty of events and even some that include families/partners."
12th Browne Jacobson: 79%
"The firm really encourage a good work life balance," said a senior lawyer. "If you are working long hours (which is rare) then management will step into support."
A business services staffer said: "people are genuinely thoughtful about deadlines, so, unlike at previous firms, I've never actually had to cancel evening or weekend plans."
13th Trowers & Hamlins: 78%
"Weekends are my own and I can see my wife and children during the week," said a partner at Trowers & Hamlins.
"I have countless hobbies which I rarely have to sacrifice because of work," said a Trowers lawyer. "Moreover the firm encourages people to have their own lives, to bring their interests and skills to work in a genuine and not lip-servicey way."
14th DAC Beachcroft, Osborne Clarke, Travers Smith: 77%
At DAC Beachcroft, the "unrivalled flexible policies" were described as "a genuine game changer, especially for working parents."
"Flex Forward is amazing," said one DACB staffer about the policy. "It really helps me be able to juggle working life with being a Mum as well." A colleague agreed: "This is the best part of working at DACB, I can really managing working and childcare, I have a very understanding manager in this aspect."
At Osborne Clarke, a senior lawyer said: "I work hard and clock off (mostly) at a reasonable time. Demands outside of that are occasional rather than the rule and there's give and take if I need to work flexibly around family commitments."
An OC junior lawyer said they were "really satisfied" with the balance. "I have been online later before (i.e. 9-10pm) and have had senior members of my team check in on me to check that I don't have too much work on, which is greatly appreciated."
A Travers Smith senior lawyer said: "I’ve got a flexible working schedule to fit around childcare and my team are generally very good about bearing it in mind. Can be stressful sometimes, but that comes with the job."
A colleague noted: "As a corporate lawyer, there are busy times where the pay probably does not reflect my input. However, the firm/team are very conscious of this and will do their best to give you a breather after such a period."
17th Gowling WLG: 76%
"Firm are very flexible with hybrid working," said a Gowling WLG lawyer. "Official policy is to spend at least 50% of time in the office but that is not honoured by most and not enforced by the partners."
A Gowling trainee commented that the firm "has an excellent work life balance. No expectation to work late into the evening, every day. As long as you get your work done, your hours are very reasonable."
18th Addleshaw Goddard, Fieldfisher, Howard Kennedy, Irwin Mitchell: 75%
An Addleshaw Goddard business services staffer said that the "hybrid working model is great - the firm take a relaxed approach and because of this it actually encourages employees to go into the office more as it's their own decision. I currently go in three days a week but have the option to go in less and some weeks are more flexible."
A senior lawyer at Addleshaws said the balance was "pretty good" but believed that there was a generational divide: "I'm a little dismayed that some of our juniors think that staying in the office past 6pm is a hardship.... Back in the good old days, much later finishes were expected and I got paid signficantly less for the pleasure. I actually think our juniors have it a little too easy."
At Fieldfisher a partner said the work/life balance was "Genuinely great. It hates the title of 'lifestyle firm' but the vast majority of Associates and Partners are out the door by 6pm".
A Howard Kennedy partner said that the balance was: "A key reason to why I don’t want to leave. I have two young kids and I get to work around them."
A junior lawyer at Howard Kennedy commented that the firm offered "lots of flexibility on working from home including working from abroad."
Irwin Mitchell was also applauded by staff for its hybrid policy. "The flexible by choice approach works really well and gives opportunity to really balance work with personal life and chance to mostly work from home," said a junior lawyer. "Overall it is quite relaxed and has meant there is no feeling of being somewhere at an inappropriate time."
22nd RPC: 74%
"Hybrid policy working a dream," said a junior lawyer at RPC. "No one is too pushy about you having to be in on certain days, or for a certain number of days. Generally left to get on with the work as an adult."
"Hours target is challenging but achievable if you focus at work," commented a junior at RPC. "I rarely have to work beyond 6PM and the firm appreciates we have lives outside of work. I never feel judged for leaving on time."
23rd HFW, Horwich Farrelly, Penningtons Manches, Shoosmiths: 73%
A HFW solicitor noted the trade-off for salary: "The package is nowhere near Magic Circle firms but work/life balance is a reality. I am out of the door by 6pm most days."
A business services member of staff at HFW said "Two/three days in the office works - let's hope they don't try and increase it - they would risk a walk out."
At Horwich Farrelly, a staffer said the firm offers "good home working policy, as long as the work is done...can start/finish at flexible times, go into the office once a week to meet up with the team, but no pressure if you can’t get in every week."
"Very family friendly," said a senior lawyer at Horwich Farrelly. "I get to work when I want and how I want and no one gives me crap for it. As long as I can do my job properly and be a good team player and deliver service to the clients I’m left to get on with it."
Pennington Manches was commented for a similar approach: "I am allowed to work at home and only go into the office when there is a need," said one member of staff.
Shoosmiths was also praised: "Team are always accommodating in terms of annual leave, giving time back after a busy period and encouraging to log off as soon as possible," said a junior lawyer.
27th DWF, Womble Bond Dickinson: 72%
A DWF junior lawyer said: "Hours can be long but the firm is flexible so you don’t have to be sat at your desk / can work around other life commitments."
At Womble Bond Dickinson, a senior lawyer said: "The firm is very flexible and accommodating to people's needs. We aren't tied to our desks, get paid well and have a life outside of work." Although a trainee commented: "Overall work life balance is good. What is disappointing is that we are expected to regularly attend networking events when often hardly any senior colleagues attend."
29th DLA Piper, Taylor Wessing: 71%
"The job can be savage sometimes, but at least at DLA they don't deliberately make it so," said a senior lawyer at the firm. "You enjoy your life when you can, and occasionally have to work late."
A business services staffer at Taylor Wessing said the firm was: "Really flexible with working from home." While a senior lawyer said that work/life balance was "definitely worse elsewhere."
31st Baker McKenzie: 70%
"Firm is much more open to flexible working arrangements than it has ever been," said a senior lawyer at Baker McKenzie.
A business services staffer at Baker McKenzie agreed: "I can work from home regularly and I'm trusted to do my job and get it done with no micro managing or clock watching."
32nd BCLP, Hill Dickinson, Mishcon de Reya, Squire Patton Boggs: 69%
At BCLP a senior lawyer said: "Sometimes a client demand means a bit of late night work or logging on during a weekend to deal with something, but holidays, evenings and weekends are generally very well respected." While another BCLP lawyer commented: "When I've had personal issues happen in my life, the firm have always given me the space and time to deal with things."
At Hill Dickinson, a junior lawyer commented: "I can leave early if I need to pick up my children. However, I do make up for this time working longer hours. But all round, I can see my kiddos and they don't view me as some keyboard monkey "
A Mishcon de Reya senior lawyer said the balance was a "total lottery - some people seem to work 9-6 but others are working all the time. The more senior you get the more you seem to work."
At Squire Patton Boggs a junior lawyer commented: "Occasional long hours but I rarely work beyond 7pm and partners do not watch over you so going to the gym / for a walk on lunchtime is very possible."
36th Hogan Lovells, Stephenson Harwood: 68%
"Most of the time I feel very well paid for the amount of work I do," said a lawyer at Hogan Lovells. "Some late nights are to be expected from time to time but holidays and weekends are mostly respected unless there's no alternative."
It was a mixed-bag at Stephenson Harwood with some saying the balance was "about right", but others complaining of workaholic partners. "Very much dependant on you team," summarised a trainee.
38th Clyde & Co, Freeths, Mayer Brown: 67%
"So long as you're hitting your target hours (or near enough), the firm leaves you alone," said a senior lawyer at Clyde & Co. "Most partners respect normal business hours and try not to pester you outside of them. I haven't had to work a weekend in a very long time. Plenty of time being with my family without being called away by work."
A junior at Freeths praised the flexible hybrid working: "WFH is fully supported and encouraged. If you have kids, pets, appointments, deliveries, boiler man coming round, you are fully supported to work from home flexibly as long as your work gets done. Everyone has time for hobbies, not working late hours and weekends is encouraged from the top down."
At Mayer Brown, a junior lawyer noted that it was "rare to work on weekends, but you are expected to be available."
41st Norton Rose Fulbright: 66%
A senior lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright said: "Expected to work hard when needed, but it is not a face time culture and the team around you look out for your wellbeing and are conscious of needing to support those who are going through busier periods."
A business services member of staff noted: "Hybrid working and flexibility haven't disappeared post-pandemic."
42nd Macfarlanes, Watson Farley & Williams: 65%
"Could do with more free time, but I knew what I was signing up for," said a senior lawyer at Macfarlanes. "Some associates have not set clear boundaries and they get taken advantage of, but that's an industry wide issue."
A WFW lawyer revealed: "It’s fairly good as long as you set boundaries with your partners. In the current market where they struggle to hire, I’m enjoying the shift in the balance of power."
44th CMS: 64%
"I get out on time sometimes but, for the pay, I'd expect to not work so many weekends," said a lawyer at CMS.
A colleague concurred: "For the money I’m paid vs market, I should finish work at 6 every night."
45th Shakespeare Martineau, Gateley, Goodwin Procter, Weil: 63%
A senior lawyer at Shakespeare Martineau commented: "The firm does offer agile working and allows employees to schedule their working requirements around their life circumstances." The lawyer believed: "This is primarily the key offering that Shakespeares can provide to entice fee earners to join or remain longer term."
At Gateley, one staffer said that the firm was increasing the office requirement to three days a week: "The agile working/ flexibility was the differentiator compared with other firms. So if this is enforced, I can see even more people leaving."
A junior lawyer at Gateley opined: "The firm pushes the idea there is a good work/life balance and that is why they do not pay as much as other firms but this is not always the case."
At the other end of the scale, at Goodwin Procter a lawyer said: "Hours can be quite heavy but to be expected when you’re at a firm at this level and getting paid what is, objectively, an eye-watering amount of money."
It was a similar view about work/life balance in relation to salary at Weil: "The hours can be long but that's the deal, and it's a pretty fair one."
49th Charles Russell Speechlys, Debevoise & Plimpton, Dechert, Kennedys, White & Case: 62%
At Charles Russell Speechlys a lawyer noted that with "corporate work there is always the age old problem of peaks and troughs. Despite the pay and the good work life culture, there is still an expectation to work hard and sometimes evening and weekend work is expected. However, this is always the exception not the rule and the partners are pretty good at acknowledging those who go above and beyond."
At Dechert, a senior lawyer noted: "Given how much I'm being paid, I'm fairly happy. The expectation is that we will work hard for the salary but it is nowhere near as aggressive as some of the Cravath-scale shops where you sell your soul for moolah."
One such US firm is Debevoise & Plimpton, where staff acknowledged the Faustian pact: "Of course I spend more time at work then at home (I tend to go to the office 5 days a week) but this is part of the rules of the game," said one lawyer.
"It is a bit of as misnomer that there is something called work-life balance," believed one Kennedys associate. "The noose of the annual targets always looms big."
Although another Kennedys respondent noted: "You are treated like an adult. Yes, you do have time targets but, you can flex."
At White & Case, a business services member of staff said: "I personally make it work fine. That said...I totally get that junior lawyers need face time with colleagues. However, demanding that members of business teams in global roles are in the office 3 days a week (where they will spend most of their time on videocalls) is crazily uncommercial."
A White & Case lawyer said: "As expected, hours can be long, but that goes along with the pay and quality of work and is fair."
54th Pinsent Masons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Reed Smith: 61%
"The hours aren’t US-level, but when the pressure is on you’re expected to put in the hours," said a Pinsent Masons lawyer. "However, when it’s quieter you can enjoy the downtime."
At HSF, a business services member of staff said "There’s a fair balance between office attendance (steadily increasing) and not being dramatic about it. There’s been a bit of a push for business services staff, particularly IT roles, to be in the office more to support the lawyers, who meanwhile are…still working from home."
A Reed Smith lawyer noted: "Very typical City fare, long hours are required when needed but in general time off/weekends are respected."
57th Freshfields: 60%
Work/life balance at Freshfields "can be terrible" said a senior lawyer. "Lots of initiatives to try to make it better but ultimately the firm will accept more work even if teams are running at full capacity."
A business services member of staff at the firm commented: "I have peaks throughout the year were I need to work over and above normal hours, but in general I have a reasonable work life balance. The agile working policy has been a godsend."
58th Allen & Overy, Dentons: 59%
"Fair work life balance based on where the firm’s remuneration stands in the market," said a junior lawyer at A&O. "Occasional weekends but otherwise working hours are contained within weekdays."
At Dentons, a senior lawyer said: "Flexible working is encouraged, but mainly as there aren't enough desks in the office. If there is work to do, you are expected to do it."
Another lawyer at Dentons said: "In my practice area there are plenty of late nights, but these are balanced out by periods of less intensity and you are encouraged to try to take advantage of them when they do come around. WFH arrangements are flexible, although this tends to be team led, rather than mandated at a firm-wide level."
60th Kirkland & Ellis: 58%
"You don’t go to K&E expecting to have a work/ life balance," summarised a junior lawyer.
61st Keoghs, TLT: 57%
"They pretend it’s good but then the chargeable hours targets are a whole working day," said a junior lawyer at Keoghs.
At TLT, one lawyer said: "Even if we're not busy no-one leaves before 7pm, presenteeism is pretty dire." Although, another lawyer at the firm had a more positive experience: "There's respect for other commitments away from work, including school pick ups etc, and a human approach."
63rd Slater and Gordon: 56%
At Slater and Gordon a senior lawyer said that despite the firm offering "flexible hours and WFH" there was "pretty high hours target compared to others and far too much work to handle anything properly, even with working late into the evening most days."
64th Ashurst: 55%
At Ashurst, one lawyer said: "It varies between teams. Some teams are really respectful that we aren't lawyers 24/7, others less so."
Another acknowledged: "I'm a lawyer in Biglaw, it's not a 9-5 job, anyone else who thinks otherwise needs to get a brain scan. So long as you learn to treasure your weekends/downtime when you have it, it's all good."
65th Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May: 54%
A junior lawyer at CC said: "Expectation varies from team to team. Some partners had associates working on Christmas day." But a senior lawyer at the firm noted: "It can be busy, of course - it's what you expect for the money that is on offer (and too many junior lawyers nowadays can't accept that!). It's a lot better than some of my friends at US firms, though."
At Slaughter and May, there were also mixed opinions, ranging from "the hours are unbelievably good" to "being f***ed over". One junior lawyer responded: "You know what you sign up for. Provided you go in with your eyes open, it’s a very fair trade indeed. The lack of billables is excellent - no stress as to whether you are achieving targets for the purpose of bonuses or promotion (although it goes without saying that if you are a prospective partner, you will be busy enough…)".
67th Ropes & Gray: 53%
"Back to 4 days in office was not a good move regarding this," said one Ropes & Gray member of staff.
Another agreed: "Work/life balance was perfect when we were in office 3 days/remote 2. Most are now expected in the office 4 days a week, which the majority of us think is unnecessary, and is exhausting. I feel I have no work/life balance any more."
68th Eversheds Sutherland: 52%
An Eversheds Sutherland trainee commented that the firm "does not pay market rate for trainees for the work/life balance it now offers" and it is "highly dependent on the team you work for", with transactional teams having a "terrible" work/life balance.
69th Linklaters, Knights: 46%
A senior lawyer at Linklaters said: "Life is always second order of priority when you have to meet your billable target. Otherwise, you are nicely asked to leave the team or the firm."
At Knights, while some staff said that the work/life balance was "good" when it came to working hours, there were gripes about having to "be in 5 days a week."
71st Capsticks: 43%
"Lower pay should mean better work life balance. But sadly it doesn’t at the moment," said a senior lawyer at Capsticks. "Tasked with winning new work but there is nowhere to put it."
A trainee at the firm agreed: "The firm has increasingly shifted from a firm with a strong work life balance to one which squeezes the juniors massively without the pay as compensation."
72nd Paul Hastings: 40%
In last place for work/life balance was Paul Hastings. Although many staff at the firm appreciated that was the deal for a whopping salary.
"A partially horrendous work life balance is in the job description. People try to be reasonable too, so it could be worse," said one lawyer. "Burn out seems inevitable in the long run though, but that's an active choice we make individually if choosing to stay on."
One lawyer summarised the position: "Unashamedly US in hours culture."