When you realise the grease on the pole is people
"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
"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!"
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%).
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."