Norton Rose has beaten off strong competition to become RollOnFriday's UK Firm of the Year 2010.

In a year of redundancies, pay freezes and general job uncertainly Norton Rose seems to have handled the situation better than any other firm. It won high praise for its Flex programme that managed to stave off redundancies and clearly succeeded in making associates feel a valued part of the firm. Typical comments included "the most decent firm before and during the economic crisis" and "the firm looked after me and I want to follow suit" - although "the highest percentage of brilliant people in any law firm in any country"  was possibly gilding the lily.
One Norton Rose lawyer summed up the ethos as follow: "I could go and work at Linklaters and end up on £2.5million a year, but I have a wife and children and I quite like seeing them... the fact that the firm isn't driven by money means that I'm treated well and it's not all about chargeable hours. All the decisions taken, from Flex down, seem to have been devised from this starting point".

As well as coming top overall, the firm got first place in the specific categories of how it handled the downturn and how it treats its staff. And whilst there was some grumbling about pay, pretty much all those who responded said that they appreciated that some sacrifice was necessary to save jobs. In fact the only constant complaint seemed to be that the firm had a rather lacklustre Christmas tree. So overall, staff management - excellent. Festive decorating skills - could try harder.

  Peter Martyr accepts a magnificent RollOnFriday T-Shirt (one size fits no one really) while waiting for his trophy to be hand-crafted from solid perspex

Also near the top of the leader board were regulars Latham & Watkins and newcomers Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and Hammonds.

Latham, as usual, received praise for its excellent remuneration (coming first in the pay category), "wonderful" partners and managing to make associates feel autonomous and yet still properly supported.

Showing how different models can appeal to different people, Hammonds came second and RPC came third - despite the fact that they both received fairly low scores for pay. However the firms scored highly in how well they promote talented staff and how their staff are treated. RPC came in for particular praise from its trainees: "encourages trainees to get involved in all aspects of the firm", "trainee pay rises despite the recession" and "this year's NQ retention was very good - and we still get free breakfast before 8.30am"  were some of the comments. And Hammonds seems to have put the woes of the last few years firmly behind it, with insiders saying that partners "communicate & look after staff extremely well", and praising the "very good atmosphere within the firm” and "an excellent Managing Partner who really cares about people”.

At the other end of the table Shoosmiths came a resounding last. Which is unsurprising given the firm's decision to defer the start of its trainees' contracts for years without any compensation - a masterful policy which resulted in the firm's managing partner standing down. Insiders also complained that the 2.5% pay cut handed out to all staff might have been "promoted as voluntary but came with the veiled threat of sackings". Whilst the firm received praise for containing "friendly people", one contributor suggested that "they will all be out the door when the market picks up".

Eversheds and DLA Piper limped in as second and third from bottom respectively. More detailed coverage of the losers, together with the state of play of the Magic Circle and who has the best bogs, biscuits and bashes will be published next week.

Check out the full results here.
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