12 February 2019

Mills & Reeve is the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019.

Last year's joint winner, Bristol-based Osborne Clarke, came second. City IP practice Bristows broke the regional firms' grip on the medals, taking third.

Over 5,000 people working in law firms rated their gaff on pay, career development, work/life balance, culture and management. And on the loos and snacks, although those two categories were (scandalously) given a lower weighting in the results. 

Mills & Reeve staff chimed in to give the firm the top spot for the second year running, after it was forced to share the crown last year with OC and Burges Salmon.

"We are paid less than other firms", said a junior solicitor, "but that is weighed up with the work/life balance and the nice environment". That trade-off was a big factor. "We are also encouraged to take holidays without having access to emails so that we can benefit from an actual break", said a senior solicitor. "When I talk to people from other firms and hear what they have to put up with I shudder". A senior solicitor with a young family said there was "no tutting when you leave at 5". "I can think of quite a few people who work part time", said a junior solicitor, "but nevertheless appear to be on the track to partnership".  

And the pay isn't even bad. "On a regional basis it is higher than a lot of competitors", said a non-fee-earner. Though, said a senior solicitor, "the rocketing expense of living in or near Cambridge makes life a bit tougher for denizens of that office".


trophy

The greatest award in law.


"At the risk of sounding smug", said a junior, "I now work fewer hours than I did at a much smaller regional firm, but I'm doing City quality work, being paid a lot more, and the ceilings don't leak when it rains".

Management was praised to the skies. The top bods were "visible, warm and look to involve all staff", said one lawyer. "Claire and Justin are doing a great job", said another.

The culture "lives up to the hype at M&R", said a solicitor. M&R "has always been a friendly firm", said another senior lawyer, "and that hasn't changed with growth (which was always the worry)". There are a couple of issues. Pay in the Cambridge office is one. Plumbing in Cambridge is another. Despite a refurb, "the entire contents of the building toilets occasionally gets emptied into the ceiling of the ground floor training room". As for what would make staff leave: "Nothing", said a trainee. "I wish I could stay forever!" Gulp.

Claire Clarke, Managing Partner of Mills & Reeve, said, “We are absolutely delighted to once again be named as RollOnFriday Firm of the Year and there’s been lots of air punching, and even some high fives when we heard the news!"

"We are very proud of our culture at Mills & Reeve and believe that if we treat people well that will lead to excellent results across the board. Supporting and challenging our people is a core part of our strategy."  

"We like to see Mills & Reeve as a non-hierarchical firm and a great example of that was how we involved so many people across the firm, from lawyers to business services, in shaping our strategy. It’s also the case that little things matter to people and I make sure I meet every new starter to find out why they have joined, how things are going and what they want to achieve.  Given this result I also now need to check whether they are chocolate digestive or custard cream fans!”

Well done to M&R.

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Osborne Clarke, which has for several years been voted one of the happiest firms in the UK, lost out by just two percentage points this year. Its 84% was still an exceptional score. 

A large number of staff wrote in, and they were overwhelmingly positive. Pay wasn't the highest in the UK, but "still hefty and we do get a life outside work", said a solicitor. "I'd rather be here, working alongside fun people for ace clients and getting home at a decent time, than working all hours for more money", said another. It's great, she added, "to be able to live and work in Bristol - 10 minute commute home, weekends in Devon and Cornwall, etc. - and work sensible hours, but still get City-quality work".

Many had praise for OC's top brass. "Genuinely excellent", said a junior lawyer. "It is great how transparent the management team are with us all... I also really like Ray [Berg, the Managing Partner]'s emphasis on diversity and wellbeing (walking the walk, as well as talking the talk!)".    
  
"I would not want to be at any other city firm", said a junior. Osborne Clarke "is full of people who have moved from US and Magic Circle firms who are all now genuinely happy and enjoying their work, even at our busiest people remain good humoured. I haven't encountered any psychopaths yet".    

Many attested to what one junior solicitor called a "very special culture" in which they "genuinely feel valued". Plus, the firm "has listened to previous ROF survey feedback and is refurbishing the loos!" Glad to have made a difference.

Ray Berg said, "When it comes to the things that the RoF survey measures the only voices that really carry weight are our people’s so it’s great that they’ve given us such amazing feedback. This fantastic result shows that our people enjoy coming to work and for me and the rest of the leadership team that’s up there with financial performance as a measure of business success. Hopefully the changes we are making this year will make working at Osborne Clarke even more enjoyable so roll on 2020!"

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Comments

Anonymous 15 Feb 19

I am just astonished that M&R is yet again firm of the year. I know the inside story here, and whatever is published or awarded about how great they are simply doesn't stack up in reality. I cannot think of a single person who considers themselves well paid. Senior associates earn less than trainees in London. I have seen people leave for London firms and achieve more than twice their pay (before bonuses - which at M&R are (if existent at all) in the low hundreds). I have sat in on staff briefings feeding back on surveys where associates deeply disgruntled about pay and partnership prospects were, in the style of Theresa May at PMQs dealing with her Brexit strategy, doggedly responded to (by someone very senior - earning 10x more than many senior lawyers in the audience), that "What is clear is people think that our culture here is a key differentiator". As if we could, through sheer tedious repetition of the merits of the second tier features of the job, be convinced that we'd found the "utopia of law". This, incidentally, is a verbatim quote of one senior partner who did no work, sent his kids to top private schools, spent a lot of time in France, but mercilessly ribbed employees who could afford only to live in a new build town just outside Cambridge which he thought was a "sink estate" and made disparaging remarks about state schools). As for partnership prospects? What partnership prospects? Are we talking "dead man's shoes" or is there something more constructive or tangible here which I've just never seen?

Anonymous 15 Feb 19

Having worked at Mills & Reeve, I 100% agree with the long post above. Partnership prospects are almost ZERO and I found most of the existing partnership (particularly those in the southern offices) cold, aloof and indifferent to the juniors.

Anonymous 15 Feb 19

So glad I’m not on my own reading that! SO TRUE. You had to love it or leave at that place. The regime accepted nothing less. You’d get more freedom to express your honest views in East Berlin.

Anonymous 15 Feb 19

AMEN!! I believed the hype for too long too, then I left, trebled my salary got promoted quickly actually left work on time and never looked back. What a con! Just feel so sorry for all the other 40-somethings outpaid by London NQs who are still terrified to try something else! ITS SAFE TO COME OUTSIDE GUYS! Play the market. Surprise yourself lol

Renegade 16 Feb 19

It’s the same at all regional/national firms. They indoctrinate you to make you think that London is some big scary place where you can’t have a life and will get stuck doing time intensive grunt work. I left a firm in Bristol on qualification to join a City firm and got paid twice as much and actually had a better work : life balance. I ignored the warnings about joining a ‘dd factory’ and now have a better CV than most of the people who warned me against the move. Don’t believe the myths they force down your throats. They want you to believe it as it is in their interests for you to believe it.

Anonymous 16 Feb 19

M&R was nice enough. But what I was told when I resigned! I’d have no life, I’d never see my own front door blah blah. I was nervous during my notice period because I believed it. I didn’t back down, then they said I was greedy and to impatient to put the work in to make partner. But I just don’t think they got it.  It was needs must. At my new firm I saw my first paycheque and realised the pay gap to do the same job I’d always done meant I’d spanked £2,000 a month my whole career for the privilege of working at M&R. Nothing cost me more. M&R was my biggest luxury. And it was nice, but not £2,000 a month nice. My new firm was nice too. Funny thing is the feedback in this survey about how great it is? I can hear myself saying all that once upon a time.. “ooh London… it makes me shudder”.

Anonymous 18 Feb 19

“Great culture”, or “great cult”? When someone goes on a date with “someone with a great personality” we all know what that means. Likewise, firms which only have the “culture” thing to harp on about, are harping on about it because there’s not much else to offer. And what does this mean in practice and how very different does this make regional/national firms like M&R et al? I’ve long been doubtful about surveys like this given my own experience. Employees so aware of the financial/CV quality sacrifice they make to work there answer surveys by pulling every positive they can otherwise find to self-assure it’s worth it. And employers goof around making jokes about sourcing better meeting room biscuits because, private practice being what it is, no firm can promise to evade that evening destroying, weekend-busting, holiday-interfering onslaught from time to time (and the “big bad” firms who always rank lower in these surveys are at least honest about that risk). The same risk to quality of life happens at regionals like M&R but what..? they just say sorry and give you a simpering smile and thumbs up about it when they tell you you’ll have to come in this Saturday? That’s a bad deal in my opinion/experience. Totally not worth it.

FmrCityLawFirmWorker 18 Feb 19

Always interesting to read the RoF Survey and see how my old firms say they are faring ... moving away from the M&R / regional firm comments above, how about: 1. Is it time for a year-on-year comparison, citing the "best firm to work for" over a longer period? Can this same data interpretation be pulled out for biscuits? 2. In order to dive deeper into the culture question, I think most private practice lawyers (non-partners, although salaried partners may also have an opinion) will agree that often what spoils the culture at any firm/department within a firm are the w@nk3rs. Therefore, I propose the survey asks respondents in future to state how many w@nk3rs : non-w@nk3rs in their team? This could be known (hat tip for this one to a previous colleague) as the "W@nk3rs per capita ("WPC") ratio"? Good for getting under the skin of the firm's PR guff and probably useful for the instructing GCs with a conscience? Look forward to next year's survey having a WPC column! ;-)

Anonymous 18 Feb 19

I can only add to the comments already made. Everywhere I have worked outside London, but particularly M&R, attempt to indoctrinate you to justify their poor treatment and low pay. I would not recommend anyone work at M&R and I simply do not understand the result of the survey.

sickofbogussurveys 18 Feb 19

Ugh! Regional firms talk so much about CULTURE you'd think they're making yoghurt.  If I want CULTURE I'll go to the theatre.  But theatre tickets aren't cheap so I go to work for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.  Regional firms just need to stop fobbing people off with culture as if their employees are all scaredy pants wimps in the corner with a note from mother excusing them from playing in the mainstream, and just pay market.

Anonymous 18 Feb 19

"Ray Berg said, "When it comes to the things that the RoF survey measures the only voices that really carry weight are our people’s so it’s great that they’ve given us such amazing feedback. This fantastic result shows that our people enjoy coming to work and for me and the rest of the leadership team that’s up there with financial performance as a measure of business success. Hopefully the changes we are making this year will make working at Osborne Clarke even more enjoyable so roll on 2020!""   Osborne Clarke? Typo?

casual_observer 18 Feb 19

OC don't get a mention in all these comments.  They might be a runner up in this survey, but if I were about to make a switch, I know which one I'd sooner take a punt on.  I have heard lots of good stuff about OC but this is not the first time I've heard hype about M&R being cut down to size. Another firm in Bristol and one in Guildford I also heard similar stories about. No smoke without fire etc. I had a friend who made a switch to the Guildford one to join a supposed well-resourced team who never worked late etc.  All the usual. Turned out to be a team of two (including her) and after barely leaving the office for 7 months, jacked it in and restored her pay in-house in the City.

Anonymous 19 Feb 19

I'm left feeling torn reading all this. M&R IS nice but the trouble is something either is or isn't unfair. People don't shout and swear or bully each other and are nice to each other here. But pay is an issue and it annoys me and others that these surveys just never seem to pick up on that. Nothing changes. Sometimes you get to that point of wondering how much longer it's sustainable and that point about people affording living in Cambridge is, sadly, very true.

Je Suis Monty Don l’Autobus 20 Feb 19

One of the all time great law firms. They should get to keep the trophy. The second commenter above, in particular, is clearly a bitter Osborne Clarke lackey.

it's the clients stupid 20 Feb 19

re anonymous comment above - 'private practice being what it is, no firm can promise to evade that evening destroying, weekend-busting, holiday-interfering onslaught from time to time'.  That's the point isn't it? I want to retire one day so I'm not about to give up my City salary and I've only worked opposite DLA and OC as regionals go.  So fine with me if they're 'nice' and I'm sure they all want to be 'nice'.  But they can promise anything they want but when it comes to client demand and WL balance there's no way to deliver. You can't tell a PP commercial lawyer they;d never work late any more than you could tell a doctor they'd never see a person die. So my guess is regional lawyers work long hours where neded but just earn much less. Each to their own.

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