Law firm staff who were mainly neutral or satisfied with their offices, ranking them between a sparkly 74% and a rather grubby 50% in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 survey, were preoccupied most of all with open plan, and the promise of a refurb.
TLT (72%) made good on that promise. Its London office used to be "grotty with 15 year old desks, stained floors and a crappy kitchen". But "We complained and the firm listened", said staff. Post-refurb, "TLT Towers is so much better". Now, "We get free coffee - none of that Kenco Coffee bs though. Nescafe gold". The new vending machine's contactless card feature "is a lunchtime game-changer", said a partner.
Some "will hate" Norton Rose Fulbright's (72%) "quasi-open plan floors", said a respondent, "but most staff in London are enjoying this". And aside from "persistent rumbling of discontent about where ladies will keep their shoes - the struggle is real", NRF received lots of praise for its "surprisingly good" revamp.
There appeared to be a welcome refurb programme across Eversheds Sutherland (71%), "although in certain offices the loos are now gender neutral following no consultation with any member of staff", said a solicitor. "Whilst I'm sure the firm would like to be seen to be progressive, I'm not sure many female associates fancy sharing their loo with some of the partners".
The Manchester office "is on its last legs, but the new office looks dreamy", said others, Birmingham was "very tired", and in Cardiff, the office heating system "is at the mercy of our landlord who is regularly paraded around the office to witness staff in coats filling hot water bottles". Luckily the canteen "has recently appointed an incredible chef" and "it is also nice and toasty".
Plexus Law (71%) was "stereotyped as a factory firm so it’s probably fitting that they’re in a converted Victorian Mill". A partner said that the Leeds office, "while open plan, is actually pretty cool", although another lawyer said "you’d probably get more quiet and privacy in Tesco".
The whole profession seemed to be moving to open plan and hot desks. At Pinsent Masons (70%) the office "has just gone from open-plan to 'fully agile'", meaning "we sit in a call-center style office with not enough 'hot desks' for the number of people on each floor". But, said a solicitor in Manchester, staff there did "actually have some personal space and adequate barriers between colleagues so that you're not squeezed in like battery hens".
"At least in the university library it was quiet", said a trainee at Irwin Mitchell (69%). "This is fucking mayhem. You can't hear yourself think in open plan".
Agile working at Irwin Mitchell's London office "is the bane of everyone's lives - spending 30 minutes a day circling for a desk, packing up your things, finding somewhere to put the files you're in the middle of working on at the end of the day". There, were, said a colleague, "no partitions what-so-fucking-ever". A partner described how, "I have to carry a little plastic box to my desk like a homeless person and all vestiges of my person have to be removed from whatever desk I am at each evening. No family photos, no pot plants".
"We love how homely it is, bringing everything for the day in a bag we must take away."
"The end seems near for our time at Bunhill Row", said a junior solicitor at Slaughter and May (68%). "The lifts, in particular, have decided they've had it. They will regularly come to your floor, sit there with the doors closed - taunting you - and then move away". It "would be nice to have a gym, like the rest of the MC, but oh well", said another SandM solicitor, but there were points given for provision of "scones and crustless sandwiches" at afternoon meetings.
Clyde & Co (67%) was "different everywhere I go", said a respondent. "Some offices have bean to cup and 8 different tea bags, others have a kettle". In the capital, it was "about average for a big London firm", but "props to the 13th floor bar - standing outside & high up, drinking half price Pimms during the July mega-heatwave, watching the storms break over London is genuinely one of the best views I've ever had".
And the loos were "Very clean. The cleaner must be on some kind of shite sensor because she turns up bog brush in hand at the merest shart". Unlike "my previous firm, where someone managed to heave out a bum boulder so sizeable it lingered in the pot for 5 days before someone located a suitable dredging machine to exorcise it".
Linklaters' (67%) offices "are a bit tired", with interiors resembling "a travelodge from Skegness". The firm is almost certainly leaving in a few years but, a senior solicitor confided, "We’re all dreading moving to somewhere shiny and new in case they make us go open plan. We’d rather be in an older building and able to hide in our offices, thanks". It has "got everything you need, which probably makes sense given you barely get to leave".
At Capsticks (63%), hot-desking was being rolled out, which "would work if the firm bothered to invest in decent kit and storage". Instead, fee-earners "spend around 20 minutes each day begging, borrowing and stealing computer mice and keyboards to be able to do any work and actually log on. Some days fee-earners make the journey into the office to find there is nowhere to sit and have to make the return journey (without an adjustment to hours)".
Burness Paull (58%) was burdened with "horrible open plan offices with cheap desks which wobble when your immediate neighbour so much as sneezes". Freshfields' (53%) imminent departure was keenly anticipated. "The office is falling to bits and mice are sighted daily", said staff, "but there is a lot of excitement about that move to Bishopsgate next year".
Dentons' (52%) "tatty" office was "overdue a refurbishment/move", said staff, "because replacing the carpets doesn't cut it". The firm had "not redecorated or refurnished since the building opened in 1994", with "disused and damaged office furniture scattered about the office". One respondent "overheard a new secretary say that she cried when she was shown her new desk and surroundings on her first day at the firm, compared to the smart office she had left".
Most seriously, one of Dentons' four lifts "stopped working for about a month recently. "Shockingly", this "meant that we all had to make small talk or endure even lengthier awkward silences than is usual".