The Magic Circle fared only moderately in this year's Firm of the Year survey, with lawyers at the big five seeming to be just about satisfied with their pay, working life, career development and the openness of their firms. But, by comparison, the leading US firms did much better.

Overall Scores

Allen & Overy cemented its position at the head of group, coming 22nd out of 56 with a 68% overall score. That's the same score as last year, although that tally would have claimed tenth place last time round. The firm managed decent scores across the board, but it was the firm's young bucks who proved to be most enthusiastic: if the survey only took students' and trainees' feedback into account, A&O would have come in at 13th.


Work-Life Balance


It's probably not much of a shock that work/life balance really dragged the corporate powerhouses down the rankings. In fact, Slaughter and May excepted, the Magic Circle made up four of the five lowest scoring firms for work-life balance, and only Macfarlanes fared worse. "All work and no play" A&O was singled out for a "pay:hours ratio [that] can result in you earning less than minimum wage", even if one starry eyed lawyer claimed the firm "always [does] a better job than the other firms on a deal". Linklaters propped up the work-life balance table, scoring 45% for "ridiculous" and "ruthless" hours.

Freshfields' respondents complained of "unpredictable hours", an attitude of "never saying no to clients" with the result being "sleep deprived, stressed out associates". One lawyer claimed "the firm boasts about its part-time-partners, but [they] are too ashamed to tell their names". And at Clifford Chance, there are "US style hours for half the US style salary", and the firm is populated by "grey, deathless nerds who will happily camp out in the office all weekend".

Perhaps surprisingly, Slaughters was way ahead of the MC curve, scoring a creditable 61%, with claims there's "no pressure to stay late for the sake of it". Others were less sure, and commented that "cannon fodder" associates are "worked very hard". One exhausted mid-level associate said "working like a Spanish donkey doesn't even come close". As a group, the Magic Circle's a tough ride for junior lawyers.

Openness

A lack of openness was a particular issue for Slaughters and Linklaters, who both scored a miserable 46%. Slaughters in particular has "terrifying partners [who are] not approachable" and there were numerous claims about a "total lack of transparency". Their scores are a whopping 14% lower than Freshfields and Linklaters, which both scored 60%. A&O topped the pile, but whilst 63% is reasonable enough, it's not in the same league as overall category winner Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (84%).

Development

There wasn't a whole lot in it between the firms when it came to staff development, with some rather good scores. Most scored over 70%, with Freshfields was narrowly the worst with 69%. Respondents at Slaughters complained that the firm was "absurdly hierarchical" and another said there's "no career development. You just sit at your desk and do what is brought to you".

Criticism of the difficulties of making partnership was levelled at everyone. At A&O, partnership prospects were felt to be "miniscule". At CC the culture might be a bit "old boys" although respondents still felt that most partners are "normal human beings who have a genuine interest in developing your career".

Pay

But what the Magic Circle firms lack in terms of prospects and transparency, it seems they make up for when it comes to pay. Scores were most consistent in this category and whilst the elite UK firms cannot compete with the fat salaries offered by US outfits, all did pretty well. CC trainees were excited by "ridiculously generous" overseas secondment allowances, and the Slaughters lot were happy about their "guaranteed" bonus. Although there were dark rumblings at A&O, with several respondents claiming the salaries are "not up to scratch".

Biscuits, bogs and booze

Aside from work, the "lovely" biscuits at CC are amongst the best in the legal universe, and there's plenty of fresh fruit to "keep staff regular". Although, harrowingly, there are "no lids to the toilet seats so it's mighty uncomfortable trying to have a power nap".

And while Freshfields had an "epic" Christmas party, and Linklaters has "lots of free drinks", it's A&O which draws the most praise. A breakfast of "eggs benedict, fresh OJ and coffee all for £3.50" sounds pretty good, and trainees were particularly over-excited by the firm's social events. One claimed that "socially it has some of the best trainees in London"  who, importantly, are also "super good looking". Another felt the firm has "an ethos that encourages people to make time for their hobbies". Just as long as that hobby is proof reading facility agreements at midnight, right?

So if you want to work hard, get paid fairly well and occasionally tuck into high-quality comestibles with superfun colleagues, head for the Magic Circle. But if you fancy more cash or a generally more satisfactory BigLaw experience, RollOnFriday Firm Of the Year results suggest you should check out the results from the top US firms.

Firm
Pay
Devt
Work-Life Openness
Biscuits
Toilets
Social life
Score
Allen & Overy
73
72
49
63
78
84
75
68
Slaughter and May
75
74
61
46
77
82
62
67
Clifford Chance
72
70
46
60
87
86
68
66
Freshfields
77
69
47
60
61
65
75
65
Linklaters
70
70
45
46
75
69
72
62

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Comments

Anonymous 17 February 12 11:49

Brand new staff restaurant in the atrium at Whitefriars (it used to be in the grotty basement) is due to open in March. Should make a big difference to Freshfields

Anonymous 17 February 12 16:00

According to A&O the US firms are not in the same market. Thanks ROF for doing your bit to change that mindset.