The culture category in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey strips away the PR to reveal what staff really think about their working environment and colleagues.
Mills & Reeve came top for culture with a score of 94%. "Most partners genuinely seem to care about how the underlings are doing" said a junior lawyer. "Admittedly, the firm's lack of 'edge' has resulted in some painfully tame social events and Christmas parties" he added. Although a contented colleague reported that his office "hired out a cinema screen and put on Die Hard for our Christmas party. Yippee ki-yay!"
At Osborne Clarke (91%) a trainee said his intake was diverse and "not made up of signet ring wankers who attended Oxbridge". A senior lawyer described the firm as "a cult" but in a good way, as "there's no-one in the office I don't like." A junior colleague noted that "bullying seems pleasantly absent, and there is little to no office politics even among the partnership (at least as far as the rest of us can tell)."
"The lack of a billable hours target and flat bonus facilitates a strong collegiate environment", according to a senior lawyer at Travers Smith (89%), as "everyone pulls together regardless of where the instruction came from or who the matter partner is." Another lawyer praised the firm for "a great social scene" with "many teams going on ski trips" or "annual away days".
With a reputation for beastings, US firms don't often obtain a high score for culture, but Shearman & Sterling placed fourth this year with a rating of 88%. "Decent enough for a US firm" said a junior lawyer "it feels a bit like the firm is for people who are happy not to be paid top whack like Kirkland in exchange for not being worked to death like Kirkland." A female trainee believed there was an absence of lechy lawyers as "there's none of the 'don't be in a room late with so and so', which is a boon (how depressing)."
At Trowers & Hamlins (88%) a junior lawyer said the "relaxed and inclusive culture goes a long way to make up for some of the downsides e.g. slightly below market pay." Another member of staff said the firm had "good values" but messaging could be "a bit overpowering" as she was "bombarded" with emails about LGBT matters.
"For a City law firm, surprisingly few dickheads," said a senior lawyer at Addleshaw Goddard (85%). A colleague said they had "never experienced anyone losing their temper in the office, or any of the other horror stories you hear about partners in big firms."
"It's very open and friendly" said a staffer at Bird & Bird (85%) where "people are welcome to show their personalities" resulting in "dog beds, fun lights and dense plants near certain pods." A colleague said the firm was "like a large extended family, complete with internal politics - absolutely hilarious and frustrating at the same time."
Mishcon de Reya (85%) was commended for being a "decent place to work". Although one lawyer, perhaps with a skewed view, rated the firm highly as it had "lots of rampant office romances."
"There is a culture of working hard but also putting time aside to have fun in the work place and to raise money for charity" said a senior lawyer at Shoosmiths (85%). Although a less philanthropic colleague complained of receiving "multiple" fundraising request emails. For the office layout, a trainee said hot-desking meant "you never sit next to anyone long enough to get to know them." Although a senior colleague divulged that "some teams have a WhatsApp group to ensure they sit together by saving seats like German holidaymakers with towels on deckchairs."
At Burges Salmon (84%) a senior lawyer said "I like working here but it is very traditional in its views: we still sit in two people offices and have to blue-tack signs up on our door when we work remotely." While the majority of respondents said the firm was friendly, some commented that it was becoming "less happy-clappy" as "a few more London lateral hires have brought a more competitive feel to the place".
At Macfarlanes (83%) a trainee praised for the firm for "friendly and approachable" lawyers, with an "open door policy". There were differing opinion on whether the firm had progressed from its old-fashioned image. "Not nearly as 'stuffy' as its external reputation would suggest" said a senior lawyer. Although a junior lawyer said the firm was "still old school despite trying to pretend it's not by introducing a casual dress policy."
Eversheds Sutherland (81%) was applauded for its involvement in initiatives such as "Wellbeing in the workplace, The Big Sleep Out and CSR days". Many respondents were positive about the firm's approach to inclusiveness and diversity, although one partner was less pleased, complaining of a "hypocritical obeisance to diversity, inclusion and equality with a view to improving statistics to the disadvantage of equally or more qualified individuals".
Staff at CMS (79%) opined on the effects of the firm post-merger in 2017. A junior lawyer said the firm had "never quite been able to sort the merging of the 3 firms cultures, and it's still a bit of a mish-mash." He believed "the ex-Nabarro mostly have a nasty edge that doesn't sit so well with the softer Olswang style." Although a colleague said that added while it "wasn't perfect, we all pitch in together to get the job done." He added that it was commendable that "such a large firm coming out of a three way can have such a consistent culture across multiple office in multiple countries".
"You don't have to be a dick to be a great lawyer. That is RPC" (79%) said a partner, offering a possible new tagline for the firm. A colleague said the firm had a "strong community feel" with frequent staff events. She added "I am in the choir, which gives me the opportunity to meet other members of staff." A senior lawyer said the firm was "a little bit Woke (but isn't everywhere these days?)"
"DWF is a unique culture, still a northern upstart in a big boys world - I love it" said a partner at the firm (78%). A fellow partner said the firm's culture was "improving but as with many law firms, the old guard of equity partners can call rank which has a cultural impact. There is a shift away from that now given we are a PLC and will be interesting to see how that changes in the coming years."
At Pinsent Masons (78%) a senior lawyer said "the firm is definitely ahead of the curve on flexible working and mental health initiatives. Working from home is a given here, in fact it is actively encouraged." A trainee said "a series of mergers have changed the culture over the last few years. It claims to be an international firm but it is like a series of different firms worldwide bearing the PM name".
At White & Case (78%) a senior lawyer said "I may have traded my life for the salary, but at least I'm in good company." A fellow senior lawyer agreed there was a "brilliantly collegiate associate body of supportive individuals" although noted that "partners range from pleasant enough to sociopathic life destroyers. One disputes partner thinks nothing of starting his day at 2pm, launching into four hour meetings at 8pm and wondering why his associates are less than thrilled at receiving 11pm phone calls on Friday nights."
A lawyer at Womble Bond Dickinson (77%) said "the firm has ambitions to become an international force but it needs to professionalise it's support staff and the way of thinking of its fee earners. There is still to much of a 9 to 5, parochial mindset." A trainee said "Some partners definitely need to go on that world cruise and stay there."
A senior lawyer at Hogan Lovells (75%) said the firm's culture was "good, supportive, friendly" and bad behaviour was "looked down on and challenged" as "we are now actively discouraged from openly watching porn at work." A partner said that "we pride ourselves on being kind to our colleagues" although added she was "slightly concerned that having provincial offices and open plan is a step towards us becoming a DLA, Addleshaws or Eversheds."
At Weil (75%) a junior lawyer said "overall, pounds earned to dealing with absolute weapons ratio is remarkably good." Although a senior lawyer said "the firm has a huge issue with working parents. It's made very clear that mothers and fathers cannot work flexibly in a transactional team and that they are expected to hire round the clock support if they want to continue working. A commonly used phrase is 'you can afford it'."