Supervisors are always on hand.
Over 4,200 legal staff have completed the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At Survey, so far. The form is below - it's time to say whether your firm has been naughty or nice this year.
Career development is one area covered in the survey, and respondents have been addressing favouritism. "Promotion is reserved primarily to those who are 'in' with the management," said a Clarke Willmott senior associate. A Kennedys lawyer noted: "The partners are not ashamed to choose favourites - invariably, those who look and sound like them."
Many associates didn't feel valued at their firm. "There is no discussion or support for career development," said a senior associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. "In essence associates are a form of well remunerated labour force who are worked till they burn out or leave, and are then replaced."
A Plexus Law associate said they were "in the legal equivalent of the elephant's graveyard" when it came to development.
"Staff are left to fester, there are very few opportunities to progress and junior but talented staff are not let anywhere near the clients," said a Keoghs lawyer. "Unless you’re going to take a client with you if you leave, you’re just another worker ant grinding the hours out."
A Squire Patton Boggs associate also bemoaned the lack of progression. "It’s been going nowhere fast for a while." They said the firm had an attitude of "if you don't like it leave", and that "associates that have stayed for a while often get thought of as a bit useless because we haven’t already left".
Associates complained of a clogged up partnership. "Unless you are one of the very few chosen few you won’t get anywhere," said a senior lawyer at Burness Paull. "Most are too greedy to share."
"I have no chance of progression as the main partner I work with is the 'gatekeeper' type that is positively encouraged into that sort of behaviour here," said a senior lawyer at Watson Farley & Williams.
A Travers Smith associate rued the attitude of a partner who gets senior lawyers to stay "by misleading them about their prospects of being promoted. Once they've got through the deal or case in question, they have no qualms about managing them out with a cheeky little dagger in their backs as a leaving gift", they said.
At Mishcon de Reya, an associate highlighted problems created by the shelved IPO: "Not great prospects as the partnership is now chock-a-block due to hasty conversion (5 days' notice) of all salaried legal directors to the equity for IPO tax reasons and the massive promotion round to partnership last year of senior managing associates (and not so senior for partners favourites - 6PQE) so they got into the partnership pre-IPO for the share issue. Created a hugely situation for an IPO scheme that is now defunct!"
A Freeths associate also said that their firm was "very top heavy...with the greasiest ladder going. Barriers to promotion include not beating targets by 50% +, daring to ask for better pay, not handing over any new clients won immediately to a partner so they can profit from it, and being a genuinely nice human being who doesn’t want to shit on everyone beneath them."
At CMS a senior lawyer also complained of a "top-heavy" structure with "little opportunity to progress. Only a small number of partners seem to bring in work; or it comes from the institutional base. Junior partners and senior associates practically do the same job, which causes confusion and frustration."
Many business services staff across firms voiced their frustration at the lack of career progression opportunities. "In business services unless you are firmly wedged up someone's backside, there is no career development," said a staffer at Clifford Chance. "They bring in the 'wokearati' and fill the jobs with people they think they should be employing, who actually know next to nothing about the role."
A Womble Bond Dickinson business services member of staff said: "No career progression at all. The only way I feel I would get a promotion is saying I am leaving and then of course they'll offer me what I have been asking for - and rightly deserved - for years. Why does the firm respond to threats rather than rewarding loyalty?"
"Absolutely no career development if you’re in business services. You just get fobbed off all the time," said a Slater and Gordon business services member of staff. "They’ve recently started treating the lawyers better as they need them to stay as they’re about to sell".
Trainees generally gave positive comments about career development at their firms, as they
had not yet been worn down by the machine eyed the future with optimism.
"As a trainee, we get a trainee buddy, an associate buddy and a thorough training programme put together by our professional development team," said a Shearman & Sterling trainee. "I also appreciate how HR check in on us and have put together well-being programmes with a specialist psychologist as part of the 'Thrive at Shearman' package".
"As a trainee I have not been left to endless document reviews - or filing - or photocopying," said a DWF trainee. "I have been given real work to do involving liaising with other law firms, counsel and businesses. I have had the guidance of highly experienced solicitors and support staff alike who have always been willing to help and answer any of my endless questions!"
An enthusiastic Trowers & Hamlins trainee seemed able to recite a line possibly provided by HR: "Over 60% of current partners trained at the firm; informally called 'Trowers Lifers' The message is clear: invest your time at the firm and treat it like your own and it will be one day."
A Slaughter and May trainee said the firm had explained the route to partnership, as well as, erm, telling them how to leave: "We have had a number of sessions on exactly how the partner track works and other exit routes despite being trainees."
A Slaughter and May associate clarified that there was "a new maturity around the fact that many people do leave at a relatively early stage" and that "has gone a long way to opening up the conversation around advancement." They suggested the firm had "the shortest equity partnership track in the City by some margin".
A DLA Piper, partner was singled out for going "above and beyond to push me up the ladder", while a TLT partner said "In spite of the endless list of development programmes that keep changing and appear to have been named by reject candidates for 'The Apprentice', career development is a real strength of the firm. They know how to spot talent and encourage it to flourish, not see it as a threat to the seniors."
A Hogan Lovells lawyer summed up how they viewed development opportunities: "The career progression of a lawyer is always a bit weird. You essentially have 5 potential promotions in a 40 odd year career and (more than in other industries) progression can depend on external factors. Having said this, I think Hogan Lovells has made an effort to 'demistify' this programme and the 'renewed' HL Dialogue process (they do seem to change it every year) did seem to work well this year."
How greasy is the pole to the top at your firm? Have your say below.