When you realise the grease on the pole is people

Staff at Kirkland & Ellis (82%) are the most satisfied with their career development in UK private practice, the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2022 has found.

"Plenty of opportunity for those good enough," said one junior lawyer. "Quick progression - best of the best," said another Kirkland lawyer.

"I know the up or out model isn't for everyone," said a senior lawyer, "but at least you know where you stand, rather than being strung along with the prospect of a distant partnership and still sitting there waiting at 12 PQE". 

"Very transparent that billables plus BD = progression," said a Kirkland lawyer. "Up or out culture is necessary with the 6 year partnership track." They added Kirkland's model was a "relief" compared with their previous firm "where antiquated relics of partners coddled their favourites". 

The Top 5 

Burges Salmon (79%) placed joint-second. Voted as the RollOnFriday Best Law Firm to Work At 2022, staff praised the firm for being "transparent" with career development.

"Discussions about career development are very open - I know what I need to do to progress, and I'm given a huge amount of senior support to do so," said a lawyer. 

"You are entrusted with high levels of responsibility, matter management and client contact at an early stage of your career," said a junior lawyer. "There is also a real emphasis on training and CPD. The open door policy at the firm is genuine and popping in to discuss questions on matters is encouraged."    

"Senior lawyers always make time to discuss case strategy or certain tactical decisions, which helps with independent thinking in the long-term," said a trainee.

Travers Smith (79%) shared the second spot. "The partners seem keen to keep good associates and to help us develop," said one lawyer. "Every three years or so there are 'milestone' training courses for people at different points in their careers which are surprisingly helpful for the most part."

The firm scored highly, partly due to business services staff, as well as lawyers, commending the firm for providing career support.  

"Everyone contributes to the success of the firm, fee-earner or non-fee-earner, lawyer or non-lawyer," said one business services member of staff. "High performers across the whole firm are celebrated and given the opportunity to develop and progress."

Another business services member of staff said: "I have an incredible manager that continuously provides opportunities to learn and develop".

Sidley Austin (78%) came fourth and was praised for having many homegrown partners. "Transparent partnership prospects and process," said a senior lawyer, "but moreover Sidley is a job for life - no up or out, plenty of different avenues for those who are talented but may not want partnership which is reassuring."

"If you stick around you will make partner - that is the feeling you get," said another lawyer. "Laterals are brought in with care so not to screw senior associates."  

"Lots of internal partner promotions - real ones not fake senior associates dressed up as baby partners," said another lawyer.

Sidley lawyers also praised training opportunities with some citing the firm paying for development at "the likes of Harvard". One junior said there are "some amazing changes recently to give us additional opportunities to study and visit the US". 

In joint-fifth was Macfarlanes (77%). "The partners are supportive and transparent with regards to career development and opportunities," said a senior lawyer. The firm "encourages development at every opportunity," said a business services member of staff, "including internal training sessions as well as external qualifications when appropriate". 

"I have been involved in the same training as trainees and NQs" said a paralegal. "Training is excellent and amongst the best in the city," said a trainee. "Comprehensive training is provided at the start of every seat and trainees are given a lot of responsibility early on". 

Also in 5th position was Ropes & Gray (77%). "There is scope for paralegals to be hired as trainees which makes Ropes & Gray stand out from some other firms that keep the roles separate," said a paralegal. 

"Ropes put on loads of sessions internally for development," said another lawyer. "Being a smaller firm (the London office anyhow) they are also really open about asking what sessions we'd like to see more of and get some great speakers in for technical and soft skills. I mentioned an additional course I wanted to do recently to the head of my team, who progressed and got approval for me really quickly - which was great!"

"It's sensational because the firm is growing, aggregating market share and new client opportunities and consistently delivers double digit PEP growth," said a partner. "Very glad I left the Magic Circle!"

Career dev table

Middling firms

In the middle of the pack, a common gripe was against those firms that over-promised and under-delivered with career prospects. "I keep being told that I am a star associate and on the path to promotion, but have nor been turned down for promotion twice," said a senior lawyer at Reed Smith (67%).   

"Carrot on a stick," said a Kennedys (58%) lawyer, who was told they were "doing fantastically" and to "do more hours" but then had "nothing to show for it" with their career advancement.

"The route to progression is opaque at best," said a senior lawyer at Clyde & Co (55%). "It resembles more of a Squid Game-esque last man standing. You can spend all year being praised for your work and told that you're doing everything you need to do, then when push comes to shove it's 'You need to bill more hours'".

Another complaint at several firms was of a top heavy structure. "In my department there are lots of partners and very few associates so there is little career progression opportunities, and over worked associates" said a senior lawyer at Simmons & Simmons (63%). 

"It's common knowledge that senior associates and directors in our team are never going to make partner until some of the old wood is cleared out," said a senior lawyer at Fieldfisher (59%). "The old guard will never make way for new blood," said a senior lawyer at Clifford Chance (58%). "If you squint, you can actually see the ladder being pulled up behind the last partner that squeezes in pre-listing," said a Mishcon de Reya (71%) lawyer 

Others felt their careers were stymied by their firm's hiring policy: "Recruitment aimed at laterals not internal promotions," said one Addleshaw Goddard (57%) lawyer. 

For some lawyers, the issue was no viable career options other than partnership. "There is no obvious non-partner route," said a senior lawyer at CMS (73%). 

Staff at many firms complained of bias. "Favouritism is an issue but individual line managers refute this and won’t accept it when it comes up time and again in annual workplace satisfaction surveys," said a senior lawyer at Irwin Mitchell (62%). "Your development at Mayer Brown is directly related to you ability to schmooze the right person," said a lawyer at the firm (60%). "Your prospects still entirely rest on the benefaction and support of the partner that line manages you," said a senior lawyer at Pinsent Masons (52%). 

Other firms were criticised by their business services staff for a lack of opportunities. "There is very little career development in business services unless you create it for yourself and you have to push really really hard to make it happen," said a member of staff at Bird & Bird (71%). "Slow and non-existent in support positions, and very hard to progress," said a staffer at Trowers & Hamlins (72%).

Bottom firms

DWF came joint 56th with a score of 47% thanks to a perception that career development was a "shambles." A senior lawyer said "everyone has realised that it is much, much harder to make partner at DWF than at our competitors." Another agreed: "The 'DWF sale' is right. Firms are targeting our staff because the market knows we pay badly and promote rarely. And they’re spot on."

One lawyer said the lack of promotion to partnership was because the current partners "have shares which will give them Scrooge McDuck mega-riches after an agreed period, when presumably they will go and celebrate with the two paralegals left." 

Norton Rose Fulbright (47%) placed joint 56th. "The firm now employs an up or out policy," said a partner, "not good for morale or as a way to retain staff/ ensure loyalty."

"No investment in home grown talent," said a senior lawyer, "easier to hire laterals from what are perceived to be more glamorous firms." Another lawyer said: "Feels like a tunnel with no end." 

Slater and Gordon (46%) placed joint 58th with 46%. "Unless you are fond of kissing ass on a daily basis they could care less about you," said a paralegal.

"Higher ranking staff will hoard any quality work and experience gained externally at other firms is placed on a pedestal," said another member of staff. "More junior staff are mostly thrown scraps and treated as if they should be grateful."

"It’s all a ruse. There’s no development," said a business services member of staff. "You get fancy titles that mean nothing in the outside world."

Watson Farley & Williams (46%) was another firm with disgruntled staff, placing joint 58th. "Progression will be blocked by the total sociopath that has been brought in as my supervising  partner," said a lawyer.  

"Any new director hires a crony from their previous firm and this is strikingly obvious in the swelling ranks of business development directors and managers," said a business services member of staff. "No-one knows what most of them do."

"The jump from associate to senior associate does not come with a pay rise," said a WFW senior lawyer, "yet the firm increases our hourly rates for clients nonetheless." 

HFW (46%) shared the 58th spot. "Limited opportunities to go up the ranks as there are too many under performing staff sticking around," said a junior lawyer. "I'm not a white male shipping lawyer, so my prospects are limited, " said a female lawyer. "There's been an exodus of associates in the last 6 months - particularly female associates," said another lawyer. 

At the very bottom was Knights (40%). "I’d be better off in McDonalds," said a partner. "Your career is that of one of those bears in a cage that are milked daily until they are no use," said another. 

"Does anyone stay long enough to develop their career?" said a senior lawyer. "The criteria for promotion are very opaque - no formal process or feedback about what you need to do."  A junior lawyer said "the criteria for promotions are kept so secretive that no one knows how things are judged."

Tip Off ROF


William 'D-Fens' Foster 25 February 22 08:37

DWF is woeful for career development, but management will only care once this damages the share price. 

Surely sensible institutional investors are starting to get twitchy? After all, for a firm of 4,000 to only promote 17 to partner is pathetic.  

private 25 February 22 09:47

at NRF you're in luck if you're a good looking woman and chummy with management. They'll make space for you at the top table if that's the case. Check out lots of new roles and the people that have got them. 

But elsewhere there is zero effort to understand the talent that lies within the rank and file at partner level.  

at the more junior level, the firm has changed its model making it more difficult to progress.  This will bring short term profits but in the long term its a broken structure. The firm has always been a good place to work - where people accepted that pay was slightly off market on the basis that the expectations / atmosphere was similar.  If you develop an alternative culture - don't be surprised when people reject that culture.

Anonymous 25 February 22 09:58

At Freeths, to make partner you used to have to heartily laugh at the partner describing himself as “head of porn” and describing female staff as “talent”.  Now to make partner you have to pretend to be disgusted by all that. 

Shocked 25 February 22 10:22

Slaughters have made it into the top 50? There'll be bottles popping in the partners' dining room tonight! 

Anonymous 25 February 22 10:53

Basically if you are experienced and a fair line manager if you can bring in say 300-700k of new business to a firm then you should make partner. Perhaps not a magic circle but definitely in tier 2.

Anonymous 25 February 22 11:50

How pathetic is it that Kirkland top the ranks. So 'career progress' means being named a partner even though you don't have any equity, and then being shafted after year 6 if you're not good enough? Sounds great

Anon 25 February 22 12:23

@anon 11:50

Have heard it can still be a decent gig (beasting aside) when considering bonus and reasonable exit options, despite lack of equity. 

Anyone know how much the fake partners at Kirkland earn?

Anon 25 February 22 12:43

“Basically if you are experienced and a fair line manager if you can bring in say 300-700k of new business to a firm then you should make partner. Perhaps not a magic circle but definitely in tier 2.”

You would need at least half a million of new business and to get that as a senior associate is virtually impossible when all the partners above you are wanting the work too.  

Anon 25 February 22 13:28

Yep, IM rife with favouritism. One lawyer might equally tick the same boxes as another, but must be favoured by direct report in order to achieve next rung. The comment in the article accords.

Objective standards and fair/equal opportunities to access promotion, rather than siloed line managers deciding your fate, is required. Doubtful that will ever be commonplace though. 

Anonymous 25 February 22 13:57

"Basically if you are experienced and a fair line manager if you can bring in say 300-700k of new business to a firm then you should make partner. Perhaps not a magic circle but definitely in tier 2."

Honestly, most good lawyers should be able to crack £500k by organic referrals alone.

Do a good bit of work for Client A, get recommended to Client B (or appointed by Client B when your buddy from Client A switches roles). It just accrues naturally over the first 5 - 7 years of your career.

The people complaining that they can't develop any business because they're too busy working as Senior Associates are missing the point completely. Your work as an SA should be your business development. If your clients don't like your work enough to recommend you, then what are you doing wrong?

Anonymous 25 February 22 14:34

@12:43 a legal director could probably get that level of work on their own for their business case for partnership.

Anonymous 25 February 22 16:02

NRF is the only law firm I’ve worked at where I’ve been to the gents and   I’ve been to the bathroom to see someone’s faecal discharge unflushed  in the toilets WITHOUT ANY ACCOMPANYING TOILET ROLL on two occasions. Some very unhygienic lawyer walking around - avoid gents toilets on floor 7!!!

Eyeroll 25 February 22 17:02

""I’d be better off in McDonalds," said a partner."


My eyes rolled so hard that I might now be blind.

Stubbsy 25 February 22 17:24

lol @ mishcon comments (as one of the juniors watching all of the senior associates leave / try to leave.....)

Anon 25 February 22 22:07

It’s very hard to progress in Trowers & Hamlins, specially if you’re a support staff, they always hire more people but don’t evolve the ones who already spent so many years in their firm. 

Do not be fooled 26 February 22 00:25

That is such garbage, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis is no where close to being a “partner” and if you just want a meaningless title, then yes, do go to K&E where the title is dished out with no meaning and credibility. The people who make it at K&E are the the junk that couldn’t make it anywhere else.

Anon 26 February 22 07:06

Shame to see HFW continue to linger at the bottom but not a surprise. This problem has been going for over 10 years and it’s obvious there’s still a significant gender imbalance in the partnership. Transparency around partnership is needed and a genuine attempt to spot junior home grown talent, including talented junior women, assign mentors and then track them through to partnership. 

Anonymous 26 February 22 08:31

@7.06 - What was the gender split by people made partner at HFW last year? And the current gender split by partner?

Ronald McDonald 26 February 22 09:50

McDonalds actually has an excellent graduate program so I suspect the Knights partner would indeed be better off there.  

Anon Partner In bottom firm 26 February 22 11:15

No surprise to see Knights at the bottom - again! If you’re a partner in Knights who is in the ‘club’, they appear to ‘graduate’ remarkably well with excellent bonus packages included. Transparency around pay increases and promotion needed if we are to genuinely stay loyal to a firm. 

Mark Lloyd Welham 26 February 22 15:56

@anon 08:31. About 15% of HFW partner promotions were women in 2021.

The partnership worldwide is also about 15% women. 

Anonymous 26 February 22 21:00

The boomers always put themselves first.

As a result, if you work for a firm led by a boomer, then there will be never be any meaningful career progression, just lip service. Sir Nigel Knowles is a good example. 

Current Knights employee 26 February 22 22:15

Have been promoted twice since joining Knights. Yes there are no criteria but at my previous firm the (seemingly desired) criteria was applied as the head of department saw fit. If they wanted to promote you they’d find ways to gloss over sections and if they didn’t they would find ways to justify holding you back. It’s much clearer to say it’s at the head of departments discretion. If you want to be promoted make it known and if it doesn’t happen you know where you stand and can take appropriate steps. There’s no chance for HoDs to hide and say their hands are tied. 

Soon to be gone 26 February 22 22:59

@ 25 Feb at 13.57

You are utterly clueless. Do you really think it’s that simple, especially with only 5-7 years’ experience? What planet are you on?

Most of the folk at the coal face in these sweat shops are treated like, and presented as, the partners’ bag-carrying gimps. That is not conducive to developing one’s own following.

The partners at the top of the firm I most recently worked at are greedy, sociopathic megalomaniacs who have no interest in anything or anyone other than themselves. The chances of actually turning good, honest, hard work into business and a following for associates are few and far between because these lunatics greedily hang on to every last opening or opportunity (and the coin they bring) for themselves and their broken home lives, awful children, unhappy spouses, tasteless homes and cars, and their petty, point-scoring, definitely-got-bullied-at-school, pathetically fragile egos.

Man, I hate this game and the absolute w@nkers who ruin it for the good people who deserve so much more.

That’s me done. I’m out. 

Alumni 27 February 22 06:09

Kirkland junior partners are essentially Managing Associate/Senior Associate at English firms (or Associates at other Elite US firms), with one major difference being that at K&E you have a 80% chance not making past the third year mark and then leave private practice to work in-house (because no other respectable firm would hire a K&E junior partner rejects) or quit law altogether. 

But, for those who are truly ambitious (and technically strong), K&E does offer you the opportunity to fast track and satisfy your ambitions/greed.

PI Solo 28 February 22 01:47

Being made partner if you have no equity is worthless. If you are not an equity partner you are better off starting your own business. Take it from someone who knows. 

A career decision 28 February 22 08:35

Most people left Turner Parkinson after Knights bought them.  It doesn’t seem to be a place where people want to build a career.  

Ask 28 February 22 11:08

I asked for every promotion and every pay rise, partnership being the exception as I got made up earlier than planned (right place, right time). If they value your contribution you generally get your request because most others are too timid to do so. 

Anonymous 28 February 22 14:10

"You are utterly clueless. Do you really think it’s that simple, especially with only 5-7 years’ experience? What planet are you on?

Most of the folk at the coal face in these sweat shops are treated like, and presented as, the partners’ bag-carrying gimps. That is not conducive to developing one’s own following."

I don't think it's that simple. It actually is that simple.

If you are labouring away like, and being perceived as, a 'bag-carrying gimp' then it might be worth pausing to wonder if that's a state of affairs that you are contributing to by being nothing more than a bag-carrying gimp.

Granted, that kind of honest self-evaluation is harder to do than dodging any notion of personal responsibility by ranting away and blaming it all on mean partners unfairly holding you down, but it's probably worth it in the long run.

The sad but honest truth is that not every lawyer in town is cut out to be a partner (just as every law student is not cut out to be a solicitor) because, statistically speaking, most of them are average. So if you feel that you're trudging a long as a "bag-carrying gimp" then it might be worth asking yourself how you ever expect to change that by standing out and/or bringing some work in. If the answer is that you don't know but that you are sure that "one day the mean partners will just randomly promote me and give me some clients out of the blue" then you should possibly revaluate your anticipated career path.

Alex Kennedy 01 March 22 11:32

If you value your integrity and career, stay away from Slater Gordon. There is a severe lack of training and one doesn't get proper exposure to legal work. There is very little room for any progression and the firm doesn't act in the best interests of its clients. One is given far too many cases to be able to perform well and this has a detrimental impact upon clients.

It is a horrific firm and I would not recommend it.

The lack of training is extremely worrying. One is often expected to learn by listening to other people's telephone calls. The training is not very professional and the environment is toxic and horrible. When one asks a question, one often gets a snide and snarky response. If people were taught properly, then new entrants to the firm would not have to ask so many questions.

Management constantly plays favourites and provides little encouragement. Every few days, Legal Advisors get snippy emails, criticising every element of their performance. Managers spend more time making big issues over little things and are neither approachable or helpful. As opposed to being supportive, people are regularly humilated in front of their colleagues. Read more about this place on Indeed or Glassdoor. The amount of complaints and problems are massive. Managers do not know how to lead teams and lack any people skills. In most environments, people who behaved in this manner would be given training on how to interact with others or would receive a warning for bullying behaviour. The extent of the bullying and managers not being approachable was astonishing.

This place is the opposite of everything that a good law firm should be.

This place does little to invest in its employees. The organisation needs to do a better job in training people, treating people properly, providing excellent customer service and generally needs to stop being such a deplorable place.

As the turnover rate is high, one inherits files which have not been touched for weeks. The Case Management System is also rubbish.

Anonymous 01 March 22 15:45

‘A career decision’ carefully glossing over the two ex tp partners who are now millionaires and on the board at knights. Also the three corporate partners who all seem to be doing well… but sure, going to JMW is where it’s at! 

Anonymous 01 March 22 17:47

Partnership at Kirkland is actually a partnership at will, so the Chicago homeboys can actually kick you out whenever they feel so inclined and without giving a reason. Worth remembering the next time you see one of your trusted colleagues demoted or vanish down a trapdoor into garden leave then an unannounced exit.

Intrigued 01 March 22 18:59

@17:47 aha - did not know this and had noticed that a couple of recently made up kirkland partners have mysteriously vanished.....

Anon 01 March 22 20:23

Wow, these ROF commenters really showed all those pathetic loser “fake partners” at Kirkland who are on £400k + bonus + excellent exit opportunities who is boss. 

Oh dear anonymous 1 March 15.45 01 March 22 21:37

All Turner Parkinson’s equity partners except 1 left within 2 years of Knights purchasing the firm.  

The 1 remaining ex- equity partner is nowhere near Knights Board.

The only factual thing appearing in your poorly informed post is that they are all millionaires.

All of the above facts can be easily verified using something called Google.  



Anon 02 March 22 06:50

It is true that there is no credible home for these fake K&E  junior “partners” who fail. One guy I knew had to go to the Cayman Islands - the ultimate professional graveyard - when his K&E ex efficio “partnership” came to an end.

Anon 02 March 22 07:04

Kicked out the trapdoor to…immediate equity at every other firm. Poor fake Partners, how will they cope?

Touched a nerve 02 March 22 08:57

@20:23 and 07:04 - yes, the other firms are rolling out the red equity carpet for a 8PQE 'partner' with no following or book...

In Exile 02 March 22 09:00

@6:50 - yeah, it's actually pretty bleak to see where K&E 'partners' who didn't go in house end up (definitely not the 'immediate equity' in other firms haaaa). 

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