Famed for their enormous salaries, it's not surprising that the US firms tend to fare well in the Firm of the Year survey. But it's not all about the money. This year good performances for career development and social life saw many US firms score excellently, with four finishing in the top 10 overall.

Overall, the top US firms did better than the UK Magic Circle (spoiler: there's less money at the UK firms and, apparently, less satisfaction all round).

Shearman & Sterling snatched the top spot amongst the US firms from last year's winner Latham & Watkins, coming second overall with a magnificent 82%. The firm was awarded stellar scores across the board but it was in the categories of pay (93%) and career development (87%) where it performed best. Staff lavished praise on Shearmans for its "great ethos", "top quality work", "cracking banter" and "nights out paid for by uncle Shearman."


US firms have never been shy with the dollars and they dominated the top of the charts for pay overall (only Ince, which slipped in at fourth place, stopped it being a whitewash by the Americans). Bingham, with its "utterly obscene salaries", grabbed poll position with a flawless 100%. None too surprising when their NQs pocket £100k a year.

Latham lawyers were also pretty happy with their financial lot awarding their firm 97% (apparently it places "a high value on a pound of flesh"). Further down the chart and  Mayer Brown managed 84% (sixth overall) even though its is "not quite as stellar as other US firms". And whilst White & Case, the poorest performing US firm for pay, was criticised for a "lack of transparency in pay" and a bonus system that "sucks ass", an 83% score suggests that staff are still pretty content with their pay packets.

Work-Life Balance

Unsurprising the scores in the work-life balance category dragged the US firms down. For those chasing the yankee dollar: beware, there is a quid pro quo. At Bingham missed holidays seem to be the norm ("to become a partner you need to have sacrificed at least 2 family holidays for your deals") and the hours were frequently described as punishing and relentless, so its 52% score was no surprise.

Jones Day associates complained of being massively overworked with "2,000 hours targets" and trainees claimed that the firm's no-supervisor policy often leaves them "drowning in a sea of work". It seems little better at Latham (59%), where the target hours are "inflexible." One trainee claimed that there is always "the fear" that leave will be cancelled making it "hard to relax on holidays", whilst another lawyer called the hours "horrendous", claiming "back-to-back all nighters" were common.

White & Case (51%) took the wooden spoon in this category with lawyers complaining that "flexible working [is] pretty much banned" and the concept of work life balance "doesn't seem to exist." The firm was panned for "daunting expectations" and an excessive focus on billable hours that prevented lawyers from having a life during the week.

Mayer Brown fared better with 63%. Despite the hours being "very long and challenging", staff praised the interesting work and the fact that partners "acknowledge and seem to appreciate" the long hours.


Most of the US firms scored excellent satisfaction scores for career development. Pick of the bunch Latham (90%) was praised by trainees for the effort the firms goes to retain them. One claimed "they even made space for one who applied to a department [which] wasn't taking anyone on". And it's not just the trainees who are happy: according to one lawyer the firm "genuinely cares about your well being and career progression"

Shearmans also scored well (87%) and was lauded for its "good training and know how" and for being a "nurturing  environment for trainees". Jones Day with its "promising career prospects", followed closely behind with 85%.

Staff at White & Case, however,  were less effusive about career prospects and awarded a satisfaction score of 71%. Lawyers complained that long hours drove senior associates to "breaking point", causing the firm to lose good talent. According to one senior associate, the "new partners are often whoever is left". Another lawyer claimed that partners are "adept at killing any sense of ambition", whilst several others referred to the lack of partnership opportunities for women.


US firms may pride themselves on their flat and open structures, but the mixed bag of scores for openness suggest that some are a lot better than others.

Latham gets a gold star with an 80% score, coming third overall and top of the US firms. Staff praised the firm's "awesome transparency" and "open structure". Shearmans did well with 73%, as its lawyers described the firm as "less hierarchical than the Magic Circle" and felt it to be much more meritocratic.

But the picture did not seem so rosy for White & Case, where communication was described as "disjointed (or non existent)", for Bingham with its "history of disappearing associates", or for Jones Day, where "the governance from America can be a little opaque". Whilst none scored shamefully, all three were distinctly mid-table.

Biscuits, toilets and parties

Amongst the furious billing and relentless hours, US firms seem to appreciate the need for staff to let off a bit of steam every now and then. The social scene at Shearmans sounds busy with lawyers constantly going out for "drinks or meals or parties".

And it seems there's plenty of money to be thrown around at Latham, where the "firm parties are pretty extravagant." Jones Day apparently (and slightly worryingly) boasts "extremely relaxed relationships between partners and associates", and seems to be party central with "very generous" bashes at which lawyers can indulge in plenty of "rokaoke".

And White & Case "puts on a good party despite general belt-tightening." Only Bingham lets the side down with a woeful 56% but given the stellar salaries doled out by the firm there may be nothing much left for a knees-up.

US firms managed very respectable scores when it comes to biscuits. Shearmans boasted the best, which come in "a variety of flavours - double choc, smarties, white chocolate and cranberry". White & Case's offerings are "yummy" especially the cookies in the client suites which are "top notch". And whilst the deprived staff of Bingham are only allowed biscuits in the meeting rooms, the firm does provide "easter eggs for everyone at Easter, turkey rolls at Thanksgiving and random ice cream days".

And finally to the washroom facilities ((c) America) / bogs ((c) UK). There must be golden thrones at Shearman, which scored an impressive 87%, and Mayer Brown did very well too with its new offices. But pity the men and women at Bingham who are forced to share their toilets.

For a full list of the winners and losers, click here.

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Anonymous 17 February 12 13:46

Well done Shearman. Presumably they will celebrate with a nice song about how rich their parents are.

Anonymous 19 February 12 14:21

Based on what I've heard about White & Case through former and present employees I would say that the comments are spot on.