The firms with the best scores (75% plus) for work/life balance in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 survey had contended lawyers who recognised the faces of their family and friends.
At Mills & Reeve (88%) the majority of lawyers said that they didn't have to burn the midnight oil too often. A partner said he managed to see his "kids' recitals and school plays". One lawyer said he was "home to read my daughter a bedtime story", while another lawyer said he could "walk out at 5pm to complete Spider-Man again". Another junior lawyer focusing on his priorities said, "I've never had to come into the office at the weekend except when my internet was broken and I wanted to download a movie.”
A Mills & Reeve lawyer enjoying good work/life balance with a computer game all-nighter.
Work/life balance "is the absolute best thing about the firm," said a partner at Bristol headquartered firm Clarke Willmott (86%). "I work full time around life with two young children. I do this flexibly and with the complete support and encouragement of my team and managers."
Plexus Law (86%) also received a high rating for work/life balance, but for different reasons. “On the one hand it’s good that hours are only 9-5" said a senior lawyer "on the other it shows how little work half of us do.” A female colleague said the “job feels like you're getting through a prison sentence, so escaping at 5pm just helps you survive”.
“I can still recognise my kids' faces” said a junior lawyer at DAC Beachcroft (85%), while a senior colleague said "my children recognise my face". Facial recognition aside, one happy lawyer participated in “subsidised yoga at 5.30pm, that even partners regularly make it to. Honestly, it isn't as weird as it sounds.”
DAC Beachcroft wasn't the only firm with lawyers willing to contort their bodies and breathe loudly infront of each other. A lawyer at Shearman & Sterling (84%) praised the firm for its "on-site yoga and massages". In a commendably high ranking for a US firms for work/life balance, Shearman & Sterling came seventh. Staff appreciated the "emergency care cover for children of adults" and "24-hour GP access". One trainee simply accepted the deal: "You learn to explain to people on your weekends that you really have to keep checking your phone", she said, "missed calls from an angry senior lawyer demanding to know why you haven't responded to them are infinitely worse than irritating your friends.”
A partner at Trowers & Hamlins (85%) took some joy in witnessing shafted lawyers at a Magic Circle firm: "I walk past those poor sods in Slaughter and May who are still slaving away and eating in their soulless canteen (with the jukebox that never gets played) and a grim weekend of proofreading derivatives documentation in front of them". Perhaps with a cackle, she added, "I thank God that I work for Trowers! Also that I don't work at a firm that has a suppliers' entrance and a separate partners' dining room!"
At Osborne Clarke (83%) a member of staff said "work hard, play hard sounds like one of those wanky things all firms say but at OC it's definitely true". Although one Bristol lawyer complained of regional difference as "London teams often come in later, work later with more social interruptions," resulting in Londoners "expecting colleagues in other locations to carry on working to match London's operating hours when we've already done our fair share for the day!"
"It isn't the cuddly 9-6 firm that sometimes people think it is" said a senior lawyer at Bird & Bird (82%) "those of us in top-tiered practice groups often work hours that better match silver and magic circle firms." But she acknowledged the firm helped out with family initiatives "including improving maternity/shared parental pay to 6 months full pay" and "4 weeks paid paternity".
"It's still a City law firm, so the work is demanding and the hours can be long," said a lawyer at Travers Smith (80%). "But on the whole it is a humane place to work. Agile working is encouraged with many associates working at least a day a week from home, which helps with this balance."
"We're not expected to put in extreme hours but so much time is wasted on pointless meetings that achieve nothing" said a frustrated partner at Shoosmiths (80%). Many staff praised the firm for its agile working, but one partner said the firm needed to invest in other areas to improve work/life balance: "the lack of BD/marketing resources means that partners have to fee-earn, supervise, manage, do strategy AND fly solo on business development."
At Irwin Mitchell (79%) a number of staff said there was "decent flexibility". But one senior lawyer complained that he couldn't get any work done "due to the endless admin and shit working environment - it's like trying to work in Wagamma at peak lunchtime with the lights turned up really bright - with the result that I have to work in the evenings at home to get anything productive on the sheet by the end of the day."
"I am delighted to report that we can now have sensible discussions about working from home and flexible work hours" said a partner at Hogan Lovells (77%) despite "our departmental head wringing his hands Cassandra-esque and proclaiming that the world would fall in."