Last up is culture, the all-important glue that binds people to their firms, fostering loyalty, devotion and, yes, even a twisted kind of love.
Or not. In last place, it’s last year’s Golden Turd. “As the ex COO put it: ‘you can’t describe Knights’ culture, it just is’”, recalled a trainee: “Actually Richard, I can describe it, it’s shit”.
The listed firm’s culture critics pointed to a concentration of power at the top. “If you want to live in a dictatorship, this is the closest thing available in the UK”, claimed a senior solicitor.
“It’s absolutely toxic”, said a partner. “We should have a period at the annual conference where, just like the Academy Awards, photographs of people we’ve lost over the last year are projected on to the wall. The only problem is it would take way too long. It’s rare to meet up with a partner 2 years in succession because few make it into the second year”.
“Staff who have spent their entire career at Knights normalise the culture, but it’s far from normal, it’s very cultish”, said another senior solicitor. “There are these core believers (the *barf* ‘culture carriers’) who genuinely believe that the whole legal sector is out to get them because of their ‘success’. They actually go squealing to management if you voice your concerns too. I kid you not”.
Not everyone was fazed. “The CEO has not only grown the business massively over the last 10 years but he has done this without compromising from what makes Knights great and that’s its culture”, said a member of the business services team.
Joint 55th Keoghs and BCLP
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong, but the place is so lacklustre”, bemoaned a junior solicitor at the Golden Turd: “I think the steady stream of departures has hurt momentum and we aren’t at all integrated with the US”. Tosh and piffle, other BCLPers claimed: “I can't say what it's like across the board but Real Estate has a lovely vibe and is filled with great, friendly people”, said one.
“The only culture at Keoghs is in live yoghurt that’s 6 weeks’ old in the fridge in our nearly always empty Bolton sweat box”, blasted a paralegal. A hyperbolic junior solicitor said Keoghs was “like a dystopian nightmare” where “I cling on to memories of better times in my past life to stop myself from trying to enter the shredder”.
54th Goodwin Proctor
It’s “gone from very nice to infested with a new colony of red squirrels”, said a junior solicitor aggrieved by lateral hires. “They sit around doing nothing while Kirkland has become the world’s leader in private equity and Sidley seem to be winning more awards than ever in PE. Hopefully they will move on and we can then thrive in a similar way”.
53rd Squire Patton Boggs
“Everyone’s approachable, if you're known for being not nice then you're the exception”, said a trainee, who unfortunately was himself the exception when it came to glowing views of SPB’s culture.
“Feels like Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and I'm Georgie”, said a senior solicitor. That has its benefits, according to a junior colleague: “I believe that people who escape are actually quite toughened up a lot for the rest of their career, which is no bad thing. I’m not saying anyone should join voluntarily without other options, but if you do, then I really believe it’s a blessing in disguise”.
52nd Slater and Gordon
Slaters’ culture “single-handedly destroyed my mental health”, claimed a business services employee. Others said it was a “waste of space” and that “colleagues are very quick to throw each other under the bus”. Against all that, there’s a “strong work ethic”, said a partner.
A theme across the survey was the tension between an appreciation for the personal benefits of working from home, and a recognition that a firm’s culture is easier to spread face-to-face. “Covid has had an impact but efforts are being made to work on culture”, said a junior Dentons solicitor.
Departures were also a common cause for concern, and reflected at Dentons. “The senior associates treat the trainees with a lot of respect and give us their time generously, although the firm has lost a lot of these excellent associates in the last year and a half sadly, leaving them scrambling to hire new people”, said a respondent.
49th Baker McKenzie and Kennedys
Another theme across responses was a tension between those embracing and those querying the growth and focus of DEI initiatives. A Bakers senior solicitor said the culture was “very woke” with “endless emails about being an ally, etc. Feels a bit like if Corbyn had come to power. Would be nice if they saved money on this kind of thing and just paid everyone better”.
Others praised the firm for following through on its progressive ideals. “The culture is mostly right. Action was taken, eventually, to support the firm’s values in respect of its Middle East offices. That’s more than just lip service, but genuine sacrifice to demonstrate commitment to values and culture”, said a respondent.
At Kennedys there was “lots of emphasis on social causes and diversity, which is great, but also slightly hypocritical given the boys club running the firm”, said a senior solicitor. “It would be nice to know what the firm culture is meant to be”, said a colleague: “At the moment all we get is that we should ‘be kind be Kennedys’”.
48th Slaughter and May
“It feels like 90% of partnership went to Oxbridge”, said a trainee, while a senior solicitor said that “certain departments are better, but corporate is notorious for still maintaining the old stereotypes”.
Others were more positive. “After all the stories you hear about Slaughters I was prepared for the worst but in reality, it's been brilliant. The only part that maybe is true is the level of geekiness, but everyone is lovely”, said a trainee.
It’s a “truism but SM is really unlike any other firm in the City. Some aspects of the culture are undoubtedly stuffy, but the firm is progressive in the areas where it really counts”, said a junior.
47th Eversheds Sutherland
The culture “is very team dependant”, said several respondents. “Some teams are wonderful and very welcoming. Other teams....not so much”. That was borne out in responses which ran the gamut from “the culture in my team is shit and the partners are completely oblivious” to “very relaxed and everyone is pleasant and approachable”.
The impact of WFH was also considered. “I am concerned at some colleagues only coming into the office 1-2 days a week”, said a senior solicitor at the ‘Shed: “It is not, in my view, conducive to building a team culture and is crap for trainees’ development”.
45th Ince Gordon Dadds and Capsticks
At IGD it was “Better. Much better” since the Biles left. “The problems we have been having are, hopefully, in the past. Get the audit through and we’ll be okay”, insisted a senior solicitor. Hmmm.
41st Linklaters, Kirkland & Ellis, Gowling WLG and Clyde & Co
Disjointedness was the main bugbear of Clyde & Co people, but the firm was tackling it, they said. Post-merger with BLM, “things are taking time to settle down, we still feel like two firms running parallel”, said staff, “although a lot of time and effort is being put into integration”.
Also impacting culture was the fact that “we have haemorrhaged people lately, and their replacements are simply not up to scratch”, according to a senior solicitor at the insurance specialist, “although I suspect that is because everyone who is competent in our area of law either works here already, or has already left”.
Juniors with a different, ‘problematic’ attitude to was flagged by solicitors at several firms. New joiners at Kirkland were criticised by one respondent for “somehow not realising they are expected to actually do some work”. Others at K&E described the culture as “surprisingly collegiate and fun” with a “bunch of driven individuals and very unique personalities”.
Linklaters was “a tiny bit ott with all the E&D but I much prefer that to some mad Brexy tories”, said a senior solicitor, hitting on another theme of responses.
“Obviously there’s a few bellends, but overall we’re a great bunch”, said a junior Links solicitor. London “has taken a hit to its culture with WFH though. People are really quite absent a lot of the time, and it feels like a ghost town sometimes”.
39th HFW and Freshfields
“They make an effort with the socials” at Freshfields “even if no one shows up - and it was hardly management’s fault that the London office summer party was scheduled for the day the Queen died and therefore had to be cancelled”, assessed a junior solicitor. “Everyone went to the pub regardless.”
Another junior solicitor said “the fun does seem to have been sucked out of the firm post-Ryan Beckwith, as there is much greater focus on not drinking”.
Generally, the culture “varies so much from team to team”. One Freshfields respondent said theirs was “actually fun and social”, while another said theirs “can be really intimidating: the associates are wonderful but the partners are passive aggressive with unrealistic expectations of trainees and associates alike”.
“My team (corporate) is made up of genuinely nice people”, said another solicitor. “The partners and associates have good relationships and there is a culture that encourages openness - you feel like you can speak up if you have an issue”.
HFW’s shipping team “has a really friendly culture” but “it feels as though there is a really strong shift to logging more billable hours”.
“Nothing much happens after work”, complained a thwarted HFW party animal. “The departments don’t have the budget for it. They probably have enough money to host two drinks per year”.
38th Womble Bond Dickinson
The people at WBD “are truly fantastic”, said a respondent, “but the US influence is definitely starting to bleed into the mindset of management”.
A colleague was “not sure whether they are trying to be hard men and emulate what they think is the culture of our American cousins, but it is not at all people-focused”.
A trainee Womble countered it was “generally an accepting, supportive place…There are some rotten eggs which HR turn a blind eye to, but I imagine this will be the case everywhere else too”.
37th DLA Piper
Its size saw it maligned as the “McDonalds of law firms”, but “the defining characteristic of DLA PIper is that it’s a nice place” said a senior solicitor. “Sometimes too nice - it worries that it doesn't do the right thing, it expects too much, it’s not supporting etc. The truth is that it does a whole lot more than most places; it's just not that confident about it”.
35th Clifford Chance and Charles Russell Speechlys
CC was “very woke but what can you do”, said a trainee. “It’s like a first year intersectional feminism course at UC Berkley”, claimed a colleague.
Not everyone focused on culture wars. Another solicitor said the Magic Circle firm’s many new lateral partners “seem even more evangelical about the culture of our firm and say it is better than the other firms they worked at, which is comforting”.
The culture “largely didn’t exist post-pandemic but they’re focusing on generating one” and, in the Liverpool office at least, “it’s working”, said a junior solicitor.
Another respondent questioned the methods: “We were made to stand up and cheer the firm’s logo at the ‘Leadership Conference.’ They seriously think that is leadership? Cringe”.
“Culture is really about people and the DWF'ers are a solid bunch”, said a partner, although a senior solicitor said that “so many parts [are] now bolted together” that it “makes one approach tricky”, meaning the firm “has lost some of the feel it once had”.
30th Norton Rose Fulbright, Irwin Mitchell, and Allen & Overy
An Allen & Overy trainee was delighted with its “collegiate and friendly” culture, and another praised the firm’s “Nice people, great work, and really sincere diversity initiatives”
There was some delicately-phrased praise from a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, who said that “99% of people I work with are awesome, but then I’m careful about who I work with”.
Some teams “have completely zero culture where your colleagues don’t even say hi to you in the morning and avoid ever speaking to you when WFH”, said a trainee, whereas others “are absolutely brilliant, where everyone gets on and speaks to each other regularly”.
NRF “has remained a good place to work, through covid and all the rest”, said a junior solicitor. “Coming into the office is a nice experience rather than a chore, especially now that we do not have to do it every day. It is still the ‘friendly’ place I joined years ago”.
A colleague disagreed, complaining that “covid has killed that now. It’s not work hard play hard any more but just work and go home”. The office “is half dead even on the ‘in’ days”, and social events “are usually poorly attended (especially by partners)”, they said.
29th Herbert Smith Freehills
There’s “real team spirit and real care for each other”, said a Herbies partner, in which case there’s hope for the new joiner who said the people at HSF “seem nice but distant”, representing “a challenge when trying to make new workplace friends”.
28th Watson Farley & Williams
“I’m a relatively new joiner and was nervous having read the RoF reviews”, said a WFW solicitor. “I was assured it’s not representative of the firm and I’m glad I made the leap. So much better than my old firm. I think some of the juniors here don’t know they are born!”
“It's kind of a mix between totally chill and an international firm”, said a senior solicitor. “Sometimes the vibe changes from morning to afternoon, depending on what's going on. For the most part though, people don't take themselves too seriously, can laugh at themselves and enjoy the team's company. I do think some more thought could go into team events rather than just going to a different bar; feels a bit blokey at times”.
25th Mishcon de Reya, Ashurst, and Plexus
A Mishcon lateral hire “was braced for everyone to be a diabolical arsehole, which is what some of their litigators letters would have you believe”.
“Instead the office is filled with friendly, level-headed, compassionate and funny people. I can only assume everyone takes their aggression out in third party correspondence, leaving a genuinely nice workplace atmosphere”, said the senior solicitor.
At Plexus, “apart from one stand-out, universally-loathed partner everyone is friendly and supportive”, although a snobby senior solicitor surveying the summer party said the “demographic of the new intake looked like the case of Love Island - clearly cheap labour”.
21st Weil, Latham & Watkins, White & Case, and Pinsent Masons
Weil’s culture is “pragmatic and collegiate”, although the US firm’s “work 24/7 culture really takes a toll on any socialising”, said senior solicitors. Luckily “people are not afraid to have a laugh at their own expense. Overall, a great place to work”.
“Many firms have high achievers, many firms have lots of nice people. Not many other firms appear able to combine both”, said a White & Case lawyer.
“Most of the Partners in my team are white, middle-aged British men for whom conducting a performance review is the outer limit of their emotional range”, said a junior solicitor: “having said that, though, the firm's Associates and Senior Associates are much more diverse and the Associate culture is great - I'm yet to come across any jerks”
It’s “not stuffy at all”, said a trainee, with a “very diverse range of trainees who each bring something different to the table rather than everyone being Oxbridge mates-of-mates”.
At Latham, “for a US firm, and everything that comes with that, this is as good as it gets”, claimed a senior solicitor. “Sure, that means it has a load of US quirks and there are certainly some characters in the partnership, but the firm also tries its best to operate a ‘no arsehole’ policy - so if you behave like a twat, whatever level you are, it doesn’t last long. In any event, it’s a far more inclusive and tolerant place than my previous MC firm was”.
A colleague said there was “not much of a culture anymore - the firm has grown a lot and seems to have lost its cool vibe”.
Pinsent Masons was “very supportive, friendly” and put “a big emphasis on being yourself”, said a trainee. A colleague complained that the firm was “unbelievably woke and obsessed with ‘purpose’, ‘values’ and ‘fairness’” which “would be good”, but in practice meant “underperforming people try to find a wokism to protect themselves” and the poor old “white, middle class males have to tip-toe around absolutely any topic/matter/issue etc just in case they accidentally step on an unexpected left-field landmine”.
19th Macfarlanes and Horwich Farrelly
“As a woke socialist snowflake I was afraid I would not fit in given the firm’s elitist reputation”, said a junior lawyer at Macfarlanes, “but to my surprise it’s an inclusive place with very friendly people and collegiate atmosphere”.
Others agreed there was a “good culture and collegiate atmosphere”, which was very much helped by the whole firm “being on one site” (and “by the work pub the Castle around the corner”).
17th Shearman & Sterling and DAC Beachcroft
“There is a certain reputation of US law firm culture”, said a Shearman trainee, but “although I cannot speak for other firms, we certainly do not fit it. In my experience, everyone is friendly and easy to get along with, regardless of seniority”.
A partner said Shearman provided “a refreshing contrast to my previous firm where one had to always check the back of any chair for a protruding knife and most people spent their lives competing in a Sisyphean exercise of one-upmanship”.
DAC Beachcroft was “the law firm equivalent of loafing on a well worn and comfy sofa with a Fair Trade hot chocolate with your bezzies while you do the Guardian crossword”, although “there is a clear divide between the fat cats in the LLP and the poor personal injury lawyers in the Claims Solutions Group side of the business”.
15th Hogan Lovells and Travers Smith
HogLove is “friendly and open”, but “since Covid, people are keener to get home after coming into the office so there is a bit less socialising”, said a junior keen for fun.
“We have got a really good culture - people are clever, friendly, self-aware, supportive and like working together. And before anyone starts, it’s not a cult and I haven’t been brainwashed”, said a Travers partner. Another solicitor said a “relentless focus on profitability and trimming the fat of late is changing the culture for the worse”, but even so, “overall, this is still a happy place to be”.
13th CMS and TLT
“I have to say everyone seems genuinely friendly and down to earth”, said a junior CMS solicitor: “a few oddballs and twats here and there but that’s law for you”. CMS “has the least pretentious people I have ever worked with in the legal industry”, agreed a trainee.
“Second to none (and I've worked at three other law firms over the last 25 years)” said a partner, who added that “Thankfully it's nothing like the last firm that I was at...”
TLT’s culture is “non-toxic, friendly and it's honestly such a nice place to work”, said a junior there. “Second to none (and I've worked at three other law firms over the last 25 years)” said a partner, who added that “Thankfully it's nothing like the last firm that I was at...”
11th Shoosmiths and Debevoise & Plimpton
Shoosmiths contained “a lovely bunch of people to work with” and a “good vibe, low dick count”.
At Debs, “the best thing about the firm is its culture - elbows locked together, never elbows out”, said an on-message trainee.
Management “are clearly trying to sell a return to the office, but flexible working is very much the norm for at least part of the week”. That’s “a radical transformation from pre-pandemic where there was no flexible working at all”.
10th Ropes & Gray
US firms and elbows are a thing: in 10th place, Ropes “lacks the sharp elbows of many other US firms”, said a partner.
“Considering how many laterals we have it's a great culture”, with “a reputation for being the ‘nice US law firm’ in London’ whatever that means”, said others.
“Partners are more reasonable and understanding that you have outside interests/commitments, but at the end of the day it’s an elite law firm trying to build a top rate presence in London”, said a senior solicitor, although “To be fair it’s the best culture by far of the handful of law firms I've worked at”.
“It is superior to other US law firms in my view - collaborative and collegial, driven by a black box compensation system with zero origination credit which drives partners to help each other. So you have a nice place to work and a firm with PEP @ > $4.4m”, said one such partner.
8th RPC and Addleshaw Goddard
“Things are shifting to be more inclusive, which means socials have moved away from boozy events (same old same old) into more interesting things” said an AG solicitor. “More diverse teams mean the laddish culture is (finally!) dying a death, which makes the firm a comfortable and enjoyable place to work”.
“Militant wokary has caused any honest conversations to become completely passive aggressive”, thundered a colleague. “Nobody dares say anything to anybody. We even lost our disabled loos to gender neutroidness”.
AG people “are genuinely really nice for the most part and there’s a good collegiate atmosphere”, offered a junior lawyer.
RPC’s “unwritten recruitment policy ('don't hire dickheads') seems to pay off - I genuinely get on with the colleagues with whom I work, and we all treat each other as humans”, said a junior solicitor at the firm.
It “has a lovely culture - quite different from our competitors in the area”, said a senior RPC solicitor “We recently had a local Korean food truck take over our kitchen and they turned one of the meeting rooms into a mini restaurant so everyone could sit and eat lunch together (if they wanted). There always seems to be something going - which is great”.
5th Sidley Austin, Mills & Reeve, Trowers & Hamlins
M&R post-COVID “at times feels like a ghost town and, as someone in one of our smaller teams, it's hard to appreciate the firm's culture when you're sat on your own like Billy no-mates for half of the week”. That respondent needs to find the party: “the office vibe is like 2019 again”, said another Mills & Reeve solicitor.
At Sidley there’s a “Young fun energetic and smart partner group that filters down to the associates” which may sound terrifying, but “it’s just a great place. Most partners have young families and it makes them more understanding”
Trowers is “very inclusive, supportive and there are a billion opportunities to get involved in any BD or networking that you want, at firm expense”, said a junior: “I haven’t met anyone who is unhelpful or self-important yet, and no one is hogging work”.
It “is a genuinely nice place to work, but it feels like it's getting more and more monoculturally left wing”, said a partner, “and there is less and less scope for anyone who doesn't automatically buy into what is decided is now right and virtuous”.
“For instance, for remembrance day, there was a v short note on the intranet remembering 'all those who lost their lives in combat'. Just bad phrasing perhaps, but I don't want to honour the Russian army, Isis or the nazis. I do want to recognise the millions of people who did (and are doing) the right thing. Set against that, we have 14 paragraphs on a pioneering trans person. OK, these are perspectives it is possible to genuinely hold, but you can see the balance, and I do feel like it would be an extremely career limiting move to disagree with any of it. I worry we are really losing diversity of opinion and thought. (This may be the case everywhere). It also feels a bit like we are spending a lot of time on this and not necessarily on... fee earning”.
Plenty of others specifically highlighted Trowers’ diversity initiatives as a big positive. “We are currently exposed to a great deal of black history month events; I hope to see the level of events continuing for other causes throughout the year”, said one junior solicitor. Another described the “great" culture saw "a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion, which is clear with lots of internal events and training (even if we fail to tell the world about it)”. Plus, “the vast majority of people are very friendly and happy to help out or just have a chat in the kitchen”.
3rd Osborne Clarke and Clarke Willmott
Loads of people at OC agreed that “the culture really is everything you hear it is - inclusive, supportive, friendly”.
“OC bang on about the culture and I did wonder whether it was all talk, however it has lived up to its reputation”, said a trainee. A lateral agreed: “OC has a reputation as a place which has a fantastic culture. Before I joined I had assumed it must be exaggerated but I was surprised that the culture did live up to expectations”.
“Chock full of bright, enthusiastic people who doesn't seem to port around gigantic egos. OC knows that its culture/rep is one of the biggest parts of its secret sauce, so it's jealously guarded”, said a respondent.
Clarke Wilmott staff “are listened to and that is something which can't be overvalued”, while for at least one respondent the firm has achieved the holy grail: “no Sunday night nausea”.
2nd Bird & Bird
“Almost everyone is normal (as lawyers go)”, said a 2Birds respondent, while “Lots of effort is made to get people together doing things. I've honestly only met about two arseholes since being here”.
“I worked at another international firm before here - night and day in terms of collegiality and genuinely operating as an international business. B&B has nailed that”, said a partner.
It was an “international firm but with a culture you would expect to see from a smaller city firm (in a good way)”, agreed a junior lawyer, plus “there has been a movement back to pre-COVID culture, which is noticeable”.
1st Burges Salmon
The RollOnFriday Best Law Firm to Work At 2023 triumphed with a “genuinely open culture without a feeling of hierarchy”, and a sense “that openness and inclusivity comes right from the top and is a genuine concern”.
In fact, “even the arseholes aren’t really arseholes”.
“Sorry to be one of those boring Burges Salmon people who constantly wangs on about our culture, but the culture is 100% the reason I've stayed here for 10 years”, said a senior solicitor. “My colleagues are pretty much all lovely, reasonable people who I genuinely enjoy working with and everyone seems very committed to keeping it that way”.
“It's just a friendly bunch of bright people who like the work but aren't weird or competitive about it. Culture is the only way we can compete with the London sets so the firm seems to genuinely prioritise it. I haven't met any dickheads yet and I've been here a while”, said a junior solicitor.
“Having trained at an international firm in London, I often think those that trained at Burges Salmon don't realise how unique the firm's culture and the approachability of partners is”, said a respondent.
Another said they had “worked at another global firm and have also been on various secondments and nowhere matches the culture of BS. The firm is full of genuinely nice people who all want to see you succeed”.
“People think I'm lying when I say I look forward to going to work - it really is that good”, said a trainee.