5.51pm: "Mustn't...miss...Matey bubble bath duties."


Around 4,500 legal staff have spilt the beans so far in the RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At 2023 survey. If you haven't already done so, have a swig of mulled wine from the office trolley and complete the form below.

Work/life balance is one area covered in the survey, with respondents addressing their downtime, or lack of it. "You’re expected to work 24/7 and discouraged to take leave," said a senior solicitor at Weil. "Office activities and team drinks make the work/life balance worse", groaned one grinch.

"I hate that the pandemic brought an 'always on' culture to otherwise sane and sensible mid-size law firms," said a senior lawyer at Addleshaw Goddard. While a Hill Dickinson junior lawyer said working "during holiday" was the norm.

"I make no evening plans and my weekends belong to the partners," said a Freshfields lawyer. "At the moment, I would probably have a better social life at Kirkland." Another associate at the firm agreed: "When not on leave, let's be realistic, I make mid-week evening plans maybe twice a year." 

Some lawyers complained of the expectation of undertaking non-chargeable work on top of their billable work. "Huge targets plus a crazy high BD and soft skill training expectation," said a junior lawyer at Freeths. "I have done 1000 hours this year already, with over 400 non-chargeable (but compulsory)". 

"Much is said about the importance of work life balance whilst heaping more and more non-chargeable work on lawyers to cut costs in admin support," said an Eversheds Sutherland lawyer. "There are only so many hours in a day."

A Squire Patton Boggs lawyer said they were "working long hours on BD and other wasteful events. I'd much rather just bill 2200 than bill 1750 with 300 on BD and firm marketing and internal regional office networking."

Many associates blamed the partners for their poor work/life balance. "The assumption is that the firm runs as a series of fiefdoms and individual partners expect 24/7/365 working," said a senior lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. "Most of them also never say thank you". 

A Slaughter and May solicitor said the "appallingly bad" work/life balance was "hardly surprising" as "partners are mostly workaholics and - explicitly or implicitly - expect the same of their associates".

"The job is the job," said a Linklaters lawyer, "but it would be nice from time to time if a partner would push back on a client deadline or even offer (shock horror) to do some drafting themselves."

A Fried Frank associate revealed: "A partner in finance uses Sundays to prep for the week ahead and wants you to take part in said prep. Nobody thinks it‘s inappropriate."

Firms that paid lip service to wellbeing were criticised, which meant: a lot of them.

"This firm is wonderful at virtue signalling but there is very little behind the words," said a lawyer at Burness Paull

A Pinsent Masons lawyer said the messaging from partners "is that the 'Mindful Business Charter' is not to be seen as an 'excuse to get a better work/life balance'… Being part of MBC has just become another buzzword to try and impress clients with".

Some lawyers at US firms acknowledged that they had entered a Faustian Pact due to their huge salaries. "They expect and get our souls for the money they pay us," said a lawyer at Latham & Watkins

"Work life balance is a dream," said a Ropes & Gray lawyer, "you get emails on new deals at 10pm on a Friday night - this is just the reality of it."

However, lawyers at other firms felt the pay did not warrant the unsociable hours. "I am happy to work long hours but am currently doing so for Clydes level pay. I am a mug," said a senior lawyer at the firm. 

A BCLP business services member of staff said they worked "hard all year" only to be "told three weeks before Christmas there will be no salary reviews during a cost of living crisis".

A Charles Russell Speechlys lawyer believed they "should have better balance considering we are a mid-sized firm that doesn't pay well", while at Clarke Willmott a lawyer said they were "expected to put in top hours for bottom pay...staff turnover is crazy because of this" .

A senior lawyer at DAC Beachcroft said they used to "have a good work/life balance and the pay was lower than market rate because of that, but it was a good compromise for those who wanted a balance." But said their hours had now increased significantly but the firm "still rolls out the line" that it has a "good work/life balance to justify the lower pay."

A peer at the firm said that their work/life balance had been affected by colleagues leaving. "We lost two colleagues this year, and they're impossible to replace with competent people on the salary offered so I’m working late every day," said a business services member of staff at DAC Beachcroft. "Close to having had enough and will be gone if things don’t improve".

Legal staff opined on the remote working policies at their firms. "Presentism is back,” said a partner at Knights, because the firm feels it “loses control if people work from home. Like Tesco shelf stackers, we are in for 5 days each week."

"I don't see why we need to be in the office as much as we are at present because the pandemic showed we can all do our jobs (more effectively/more productive) whilst working from home," said an Osborne Clarke PA.

"Three days a week in the office is unnecessary," said a business services member of staff at HFW. "It's a tick box exercise. The office is now a distraction and the commute a waste of time. Firm performed better during lockdown when everyone was wfh. Current policy shouldn't be across the board, it should be job specific."  

Other firms were praised for striking the right balance between time in the office and remote working. A Hill Dickinson lawyer said the firm was "completely accommodating in this post-Covid world" with a "flexi/hybrid model."

"Officially we are supposed to do 50/50 in office at home," said a Mills & Reeve business services member of staff, "but the firm is happy to be flexible if you need it."

An Irwin Mitchell business services staffer said: "The firm has an amazing flexible by choice policy, in a nutshell, you can decide yourself what you want your hours to be each day, and you're trusted to manage that yourself. As long as you're getting your work done, no one will question it." A colleague said the policy "lets me go to the shop / pick the kids up / gym etc. when it works for me." 

A Shoosmiths business services member of staff said the firm was "very flexible if you have children." A colleague agreed: "The flexibility I am given to WFH a lot of the time allows me to manage certain things in my life. Now I have this I would struggle without it".

It gets plenty of criticism, but Plexus Law had a "good WFH policy in place", said staff: "My peloton streak is 635 days. Says it all", vouched one.

Will you be putting the 'out of office message' on and putting your feet up, or working like a Christmas donkey over the holiday period? Tell us about your firm in the survey below.

Tip Off ROF

Comments

Anonymous 16 December 22 09:12

I'm working like a dog over Xmas. The partner of the team is taking all of Xmas off. They will return in January adamant they have returned to save the day and be parachuted in to correct any errors that took place while they were out of office. Despite counsel mainly doing the drafting and us instructing them there will be a need to interfere to fuel their narcissism.

PowerPower of a supermarket car park planning application 16 December 22 09:21

has baby got a little billing boo-boo

Anonymous 16 December 22 09:22

Dear Weil, Simpson Thatcher, and Ropes. Dudes, what did you expect for your £165k+ NQ salary?! I don't work there, but I'd take it as a personal affront if you weren't working 24/7 and being denied holiday.

Anonymous 16 December 22 09:36

My London West-End firm is a family-firm and not in a good way. They care about their family - just nobody else's - and they don't celebrate Christmas anyway. Still, that extra lump of coal will come in handy...

Associhate 16 December 22 09:57

STB has the worst culture but you should expect that when you sign up. You get paid a lot of money to do your 2-4 years of rolling out precedents and never saying no. It's a sacrifice many don't mind making. When lockdown ended and everyone returned to the office they even gave a compulsory talk on what working from home means (bearing in mind this is 2 years in and having had their most profitable year). It's basically run by the MP and very much "his" office. 

I heard you billed 1350 with a 70% recovery on panel rates 16 December 22 09:58

if you want to walk around the office in cartoon socks and go home at 5pm then everyone is happy for you to join a shit regional law firm 

Ex-Freshfilds 16 December 22 10:01

"I make no evening plans and my weekends belong to the partners," said a Freshfields lawyer.

I see things haven't changed.

Anonymous 16 December 22 10:04

Spotty twentysomething juniors astounded to learn that massive salaries are in fact given in return for massive amounts of hours at the coalface, rather than unique and sparkling intellectual gifts that emerged at assessment interview.

Public nonplussed at breaking development.

More on this story as it happens...

Good King Wenceslas 16 December 22 10:27

If they are worth it at all, top-paying US firms are only worth the terrible work/life balance (and resultant toll on mental/physical health) when you’re in your 20s and have relatively few commitments. E.g no kids, no mortgage, so you can move to NYC for a year’s secondment or go to South America for a three week hearing, no problem. If the salary is worth it for you then grab it with both hands, but for some it will never be worth missing out on the social side of their 20s.

When you reach your 30s however it is very different. An extra 20, 30, 50k net is not worth missing out on seeing your kids grow up or spending time with your significant other. Not least because in the vast majority of cases you will be worn down and ultimately booted out of these US firms without making partner, no matter how much that prospect may be hinted at. Far better to head off at 3-6PQE and bed down at a “lesser” firm which is more likely to make you up in time and might even mean working with humans rather than sociopaths. You can always head back up the chain of money/prestige in your practice area once you have the client following. 

Just some thoughts in retrospect, nothing new or groundbreaking here. Merry Christmas to everyone.

Anonymous 16 December 22 10:44

How can you have a Peloton streak of 635 days and take a holiday? Are they shipping the bike off on hols with them!?

Gobblepig 16 December 22 10:51

"Legal staff opined on the remote working policies at their firms. "Presentism is back,” said a partner at Knights"

Well, if you're going to engage in presentism, Christmas is definitely the time to do it. 

Charleswood 16 December 22 11:02

Truthfully STB and Weil have decent partners but the quality of their associates is low. Have worked opposite a number of 5-7PQE at these firms who are completely clueless other than circulating precedents and sig pages after the first turn. 

I know for a fact that STB and Weil are profitable primarily because of their PE clients, but their market share is being gradually eroded by other elite US and MC firms. Strong headwind ahead.

Anon 16 December 22 11:02

@10:44 It’s clearly a fake comment. Someone at Plexus couldn’t even afford a Peloton. 

Junior L. Awyer 16 December 22 11:07

So what I've learned from this survey is that US firms have horrendous hours, Magic Circle firms have horrendous hours, and UK mid-to-lower market firms have horrendous hours.

Semi-serious question: surely there must be somewhere which doesn't keep juniors slammed all the time? Obviously I'm not expecting Kirkland pay for a 9-5 but the above sounds like *everywhere* is unrelentingly miserable, and it's just a question of how much you get paid for the misery (rather than a linear tradeoff between time and money). 

400 hours “BD” 16 December 22 11:08

A Freeths business development evening probably involves staff forced to watch Mrs Browns Boys on DVD, whilst one of the partners hands around photos he’s taken of a fit girl in the office and another recounts Bernard Manning jokes. 

Pressurised to do pro bono 16 December 22 11:29

Peer pressure to do pro bono work isn't good for mental health, with the extra hours you have to put in, on top of the pressure to do the 'day job' effectively for demanding partners. Appreciate this might be a controversial opinion, but does anyone else agree?

 

Anonymous 16 December 22 11:43

Sounds horrific.  I'll stick with my under-achieving in a crappy little regional firm, thanks.

Clifford Chancers 16 December 22 11:46

Firm paying lip service to wellbeing is so true. The amount of hours I've wasted on being forced to attend wellbeing seminars or woke talks which then means I have to make up the time by working late in the evening. Not great for mental health if I'm burning the midnight oil doing work because I've had to attend the seminars.

In house 16 December 22 11:53

@Junior L.awyer. Go in house or to a west end firm. I took a 5% pay cut from my mid market city firm upon going in house and I'm so much happier and healthier. West end firms are likely to have a better work life balance than mid market city firms although it comes with a £30k ish pay cut

 

 

 

Commuting cost woes 16 December 22 12:04

HFW should allow more remote working. For those of us in business development or junior roles at the lower end of the pay scale, travel costs are a real issue. Commuting three times a week works out as expensive as a season ticket because you don't get the discount saving. Not all of us are lawyers on big salaries. With cost of living concerns, commuting costs becomes a significant chunk of our monthly outgoings.

 

News at 11! 16 December 22 12:43

If you are a ~3PQE associate at [insert your prestigious US/MC firm here] and think that you are paid your sky-high salary because of your exceptional legal wisdom (instead of your willingness to be the partner's 24/7 available minion), you need to get your head checked, pronto. 

Bilbo 16 December 22 13:41

Junior Lawyer, wait for the full results to come out and see who does best on W/L balance. These were just some of the worst performers.

Anonymous 16 December 22 14:36

So lawyers just want to do billable hours and not all that admin stuff like business development, SRA compliance, billing time sucks and then complain when they don't get promoted as they don't have client skills or book or financial competency to run a file, all while earning 165k as know nothing NQ.  Get real.

Socky 16 December 22 14:57

Would be genuinely more interesting if the moaners in these surveys provided a reason for why they continue to do it. You're a non-partner working for a partnership. What exactly did you think would happen?

lawyer 2022 16 December 22 15:16

Nobody working at a firm that pays NQ salaries at £140k plus is complaining (they know what they sign up to - a better standard of living with a sacrifice), apart from the entitlted ones and those who haven't worked at such firms. 

Anon 16 December 22 15:48

I’m not sure what the point of principe being made is by lawyers who complain about long hours in top city firms.  They knew what they were signing up to, and get paid well (in some cases very well) and could easily leave if they wanted to for more of a balance.   They don’t, because they value the money more and choose their life’s priorities.   The logic seems to be that they want a better work life balance but also to be paid very well.   

DACB Associate 16 December 22 15:58

People in my dept have left because of the crappy salary, resulting in the remaining team being snowed under. It's becoming a vicious cycle as it won't be long until more of us leave, cos the pay doesn't justify the longer hours to cover for the depleted numbers. Given the amount of money, hassle and time it takes to recruit, the firm should have just upped salaries to avoid people leaving in the first place. 

SecularJurist 16 December 22 17:31

It beggars believe that people are willing to go through his.

It seems that many cannot afford to leave because the massive mortgage would never be redeemed, nor the tuition fees be ever paid off and the children go to a state school and take the bus with chavvy brats

Get, out, get out. Quit. You can do that.

Anyone still single and still at law school should follow RoF. Forget the handbooks and Top ten, top 100 guides, 'Best Firms for'  [whatever].

Then take courses in languages, IT, accounting, chartered secretary, marketing etc. You'd be more employable in the the non-law real world.

For the wannabes. the Training contract/pupillage process is simply awful. It's more a hunger games process where one has to impress the initial paper-sifters with how brilliant you are, when the harsh reality is that you will be working yourself to death like an executive for a Japanese company. 

Work for a plc in non-law job, even if a degree is not a prerequisite, because TBF, law does not equip one for the real world in a proper Ltd company/ PLC. WLB would be better too.

A really crap lawyer can run for Parliament, and maybe become LC, like the current incumbent (on his second stint, no less). Judging by the amount of alleged khunts in SP positions at the potential FOTYs, that's a lot of prospective parliamentary candidates.

SecularJurist 16 December 22 17:34

A great exit in the supporting video. Tricky, though, for any RoFFers in the gherkin, walkie-talkie, shard, etc.

US associate 16 December 22 18:10

Since moving to an elite US firm from a well resourced MC my mental health has gone downhill. I was fine initially, but as a result of the brutal hours (14+ hours/day plus nearly every weekend and bank holidays) I’ve been struggling a lot because I just don’t have enough time to sleep, let alone relaxation. I’ve started vaping and binge drinking - quite effective at first, but I’m feeling depressed again. The pipeline isn’t looking great and I heard through the grapevines that the firm will be looking at making a few associates redundant in the New Year. My point is you need to know what the US gig is all about and it isn’t for everyone. 

I simply am not there 16 December 22 20:10

The person with a Peloton streak of 635 days believes in a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine.  If their face is a little puffy, they'll put on an ice pack while doing their stomach crunches.  They can do a thousand now. 

Anon 16 December 22 23:16

Go 👏in 👏house 👏. 

2 years PQE, took a 10k pay cut from AMLaw firm but got a sign on bonus and hefty stock options. Infinitely happier. 

5-10 years of misery honestly just is not worth it. If you're miserable, get out. You don't need to be 3+ years qualified, more junior in house roles exist. Find a couple of decent recruiters, set your non negotiables on salary /the job you want and tell the recruiters not to waste your time. 

 

 

Boston PI lawyer 17 December 22 00:13

Meanwhile in Boston, I settled 5 personal injury cases for $47,000 in fees in the month of December alone. I did bill some time to other cases, but only about 50 hours. I don't work that hard and made $500k last year. Slaving away to make someone else rich is dumb. Start your own business. 

Wildoats 17 December 22 01:05

What would it take to lure great lawyers to a firm that put staff first which leads inexorably to delivering a legal service that blitzed the opposition?

A firm of motivated, enthusiastic, driven individuals doing what they said they would, when they said they would, wouldn’t need a BD or marketing budget. Fixed fees, quoted, not estimated by seasoned professionals meaning absolutely no time recording. I’m in interested in measuring output, not input. Clients would be queuing round the corner.

Structure? Profits? TBC. I’d be happy to get it going, and call me a socialist but I’m not that concerned about personal gain, I’d just like to be responsible for changing the direction of law firms to one that lets individuals enjoy their work, be proud of themselves and care about those they advise and employ. 

That’s my dream. Build it and they shall come. Hopefully. 

Crust of bread 17 December 22 08:31

This pro bono "business" is creeping in house too (where i work). Not content with us doing a day job we now have a "volunteering" target that can be adversely commented upon and affect bonuses. It is all rather strange imho.

DACBer 17 December 22 10:42

I can vouch for the comments about DACB. Our pay is crap and the hours are getting out of hand. Not many happy bunnies where I sit. 
 

 

Houndsditch22 17 December 22 19:34

How on earth are you not covering the absolute sh1tshow that is the Clyde’s takeover of BLM???!  Have Clyde’s paid sponsorship hush money.  No staff left and no one to do the work. Clients walking in droves and BLM EP’s facing the inevitable chop when their two years are up. Pull your finger out ROF!!

Ex DAC Beachcroft Associate 18 December 22 08:53

I left DAC Beachcroft for the reasons mentioned in the article. Having been told the salary was relatively low because they have a good work/life balance I quickly found the hours were the same as American law firms. People leave because of this pay/hours imbalance and those left are expected to take more work on. They then leave also. Repeat cycle. 

Nobody 18 December 22 16:18

I can never understand why anyone would choose to be a slave at a US sweatshop. Surely the pay doesn’t justify it.

Ex-BLM 18 December 22 18:58

@Houndsditch22 that was always going to be the outcome realistically.  The merger might have made sense in the regional offices where the two firms' rates were more or less the same, but BLM London is very different to Clydes London in terms of work and rates (Clydes more commercial and actual London rates rather than regional).  Most of BLM's London staff have jumped ship by now or will probably do soon.  Sad end to a firm with origins dating back to the 18th century.      

Sleepless in London 18 December 22 22:34

The comment about Pinsent Masons is bang on. The whole MBC is a virtue signalling nonsense that has only really contributed to the senior and managing partner's overweening smugness. My and a lot of other teams are so overstretched because of a lack of investment in new hires that we're being worked like donkeys for relative peanuts. If I'd wanted to be completely horsed, I'd have gone elsewhere.

Clydes/BLM 19 December 22 00:48

In equally worrying scenes just a few moments ago, the nation’s turkeys voted for Christmas.  They may also come to regret it.  

Not at DAC Beachcroft 19 December 22 10:24

DAC Beachcroft pays a good market rate. Their motto is “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” 

Tight BCLP 19 December 22 11:26

Same vibes at BCLP business services as @ DACB Associate 16 December 15:58

After a year of putting in extra hours and working hard, only to find out the firm has cancelled pay rises, morale is at an all time low and there's a huge lack of motivation. If/when people start handing in their notice, those left picking up the pieces won't stick around too long in understaffed departments. BCLP could have avoided the inevitable costly recruitment exercise that is coming in 2023, simply by being fair with pay rises.

BasicCivility 19 December 22 12:33

Let's just do the math here:

Someone working a 40hr week taking 25 days + bank hols = roughly 1,840 hours per year. If they're earning say £80k, that's a pay rate of £43 per hour.

Someone working a 90hr week taking 20 days + bank hols = roughly 4,230 hours per year. If they're earning say £160k, that's a pay rate of £38 per hour.

Blimey.

Houndsditch22 19 December 22 16:48

That’s right Ex-BLM. Led by Donkeys. That’s what happens. It is truly astounding that Matthew Harrington managed to surpass Mike Brown as the worst Senior Partner in the history of the history of BLM. Look at his legacy now.  All Clyde’s have acquired are a raft of professional negligence claims. Insurers anxiously reviewing contracts desperate for a panel review to drop them.  What do the Clyde’s people think about Chris Murray’s grand ambition: oh yeah they have watered down the Clyde’s brand!!!

NaïveLawStudent 19 December 22 21:44

I'm reading these comments and would like anyone to contribute to this- for the sake of my future (impending doom according to this thread). In your opinion(s), which firms are big red flags and should be avoided at all costs? Name and shame please.

Broke at BCLP 19 December 22 21:50

@Tight BCLP - true. The pay freeze was also a message from management that we're not valued or recognised for the work we do. 

Anonymous 19 December 22 22:57

I work for a well known psycho partner. They've been named in a number of exit interviews. The other partners mock them for their reputation for being a nut job. Yet nothing happens. Law is a terrible industry. 

Anonymous 20 December 22 09:15

@DWF lawyer - what evidence is there that DWF is full of heterosexual and non-heterosexual perverts?

anon 20 December 22 16:41

Anonymous 17 December 22 07:47: no, that was a reference to the male partners.

Presentism 21 December 22 08:49

At Knights we get an advent calendar and an Easter egg.  Most people receive these only once.  The annual conference isn’t annual for most, it’s a once in a lifetime event.  
 

Anonymous 21 December 22 09:40

A few of their top shaggers left in 2019 and another couple are on their notice period now.

Knightsditch21 21 December 22 15:44

Houndsditch22 19 December 22 16:48

That’s right Ex-BLM. Led by Donkeys. That’s what happens. It is truly astounding that Matthew Harrington managed to surpass Mike Brown as the worst Senior Partner in the history of the history of BLM. Look at his legacy now.  

Look at his legacy now.  
 

Talking of legacy and worst partners for equal recognition - Knights surpass that one! These donkeys huddle together, in their chilly fields… especially those in very ‘close relationships’! New relationships… new donkeys leading the team. 

Crazy Days 21 December 22 16:03

I wonder what the SRA would make of the above negative comments under its new unfair treatment at work rules - "You treat those who work for and with you fairly and with respect, and you do not bully or harass them"?

Anonymous 22 December 22 18:27

Who is the oddest partner you’ve dealt with on the other side of a transaction? 
 

Mine was a Clyde & Co partner. 

Related News

X

Don’t miss your best career move. Receive approaches from top law firms and in-house employers when they want someone just like you.