The Magic Circle did not score especially highly in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, but Slaughter and May came top of the bunch, knocking Allen & Overy off the top spot for the first time.

     


Slaughters came in at 13th place overall, soundly beaten by the likes of Norton Rose - but still top of the elite firms, largely thanks to its careful handling of the downturn. The firm won points for making no redundancies - with one contributor explaining that the firm's approach was that "[job losses] will be avoided at all costs. The firm has held several talks explaining where it is heading at the moment, and extras like firm and departmental parties have not been cut back at all”. 
 
Other contributors rated the firm's work as the best around, claimed that the partners are “fascinating” and, slightly less convincingly, that some of them "are actually normal people and nice to work for". One respondent got a bit carried away, claiming it's "probably the only place apart from the bar where you can be an intellectual and a lawyer".

Inevitably there are some naysayers (“Slaughters is run by a bunch of emotional retards and psychos”) but, still, the general response was overwhelming positive.

     

When it came to treatment of staff, A&O came top of the Magic Circle. It may have made hundreds redundant but RollOnFriday readers recognised that the firm had done its best to act fairly. "A really very decent place to work which has become all the more apparent in the downturn. The firm really does appear to agonise and tie itself in knots trying to do the decent thing by all its staff”.

However, fair or not, the redundancies now seem to be having a serious impact on remaining lawyers. One response summarised the general feeling: "work life balance is rapidly going in a worse direction, thanks to the previous redundancies and subsequent increases in the work level".  

But overall A&O staff feel that they’re treated more fairly than at any other Magic Circle outfit, and as a result the firm pulled in a respectable 16th overall.

     

Prospects of partnership were much of a muchness between Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Slaughter and May, with Freshfields and Linklaters' lawyers noticeably less positive about their futures:

     

CC, which came in at 25th overall, received substantial praise for some of its partners ("great at showing appreciation and concern for staff”) - but criticism for much of its management ("How can we market ourselves as commercial when the managing partner who presides over a 40% drop in revenue runs unopposed and receives a further four year term?").
 
And while most of its lawyers think CC generally dealt with the downturn fairly ("the firm gets kudos for conducting itself in a manner that was respectful, open, and fair throughout the process"), the feeling was not universal ("the handling of the credit crunch by some departments (notably the Private Funds Group) has been poor at best"). There was criticism of the qualification process as well. 

There was no doubt however that Linklaters' lawyers are happiest when it comes to remuneration:

     

But whilst the wedge may be good, Linklaters did not do so well otherwise, coming in at 31st place overall. While some associates still rave about the firm's culture ("the people who work here are friendly and supportive, and I know that I can phone up any of my colleagues at any level of seniority around the world and they will do their best to help me”), they were substantially outnumbered by those who do not.

In particular there was criticism of the handling of redundancies ("it was slightly less than ideal to have news of the redundancies reach staff through the press") and of heavy-handed management, with one contributor commenting that partners
"seem to think we should be genuflecting at the Pink Altar on a daily basis"Still, there was a feeling that the firm is emerging from the recession in good shape.

The wooden spoon goes to Freshfields, which came in at 32nd overall. The contrast with Slaughter and May is interesting - neither firm had a formal redundancy programme, but Freshfields is widely thought to have managed out significant numbers of associates on the sly. That has hit the firm hard, with severe criticism of "Sneaky back door so-called performance related sackings".
 
While the firm was praised for the quality of its work, and the calibre of its lawyers, it was also panned for freezing salaries and paying feeble bonuses - despite its partners having had their best year ever. And there was criticism of disingenuous communications, with one head of department apparently claiming that associate pay had not been frozen - "ummm, tell that to my bank” commented one respondent.
 
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