How they got through it.
Several firms won their staff's admiration for their astute decision-making as the Covid crisis overtook the business calendar, but others risked losing the confidence of their people through a combination of bungled job cuts, pay cuts, and comms.
11 firms were scored lower than 50% for management by their staff in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 Survey, indicating significant dissatisfaction.
Norton Rose Fulbright (49%) handled its four day week deal, 'Flex', "poorly - it was implemented eagerly", said a junior solicitor. "20% less pay with, in practice, no less work", and "sold to us as enabling them to survive COVID without making redundancies. The small print was that they would then make 5% of the workforce redundant for different reasons..."
"Flex was needed", countered another NRF solicitor, and "recent redundancies were targeted at areas that had been historically overstaffed". Although it hurt, said a solicitor, that they went ahead with the job cuts "during a grim January lockdown when the firm had just announced record success". At least the New EMEA Managing Partner "has got the importance of communication, and is a decent guy".
Fieldfisher (46%) was accused of "Hopeless communications during Covid" by a junior solicitor. "They just didn't read the mood at all and seemed to care more about the Pret economy than their employees' health". Others disagreed: "Michael Chissick continues to steer the firm very well during such a strange year", said one defender.
Freshfields (46%) was the lowest-placed Magic Circle firm. "Management of WFH hasn't been amazing", said a junior solicitor, although "opening in the US is good". "Difficult to deal with", was another junior solicitor's verdict, adding that partners "generally view us as their personal property". Against that, "They must be doing something right if they can keep the £100K NQ salary while everyone else is slashing and cowering", said a trainee.
"When Nick Thomas was running the show properly, the firm was good", said a partner at Kennedys (42%). "A dictatorship, but a benevolent and generally civilised dictatorship. Now that Nick is on his way out, the management has become poisonous". "Now it's just the remaining partners empire building", agreed a colleague. The appointment of a female Managing Partner "has at least helped to give the impression that the firm is listening to us", said a female senior solicitor, "- even though it isn't". The firm "appears to be actually trying to get away from being run by an old boys club, which is positive" countered another senior solicitor.
At Squire Patton Boggs (40%), "management in the USA are not visible and their decisions are not transparent", said a senior solicitor. "Feels rudderless", said a junior SPB colleague, "the firm doesn't know what its brand is, whether to penny-pinch like a true Northern shop, or pretend it's a US-headquartered firm" and "spread the money". That being said, "the Managing Partner seems to be trying hard to make things look ok". A senior solicitor agreed that, "Whilst I have faith in the UK LLP leadership, with the US calling the shots there is little they can do when diktats are made from on high".
Then the bottom really dropped out of the scores, with Knights scoring 27% despite its CEO selling some of his shares in the business for £61 million.
Watson Farley & Williams (26%) "tries hard" said a junior solicitor, although others begged to differ. "Savage cost cuts, outsourcing everything where possible, stealth firings, old boys club, and utterly directionless", said one lawyer. "There's a general feeling that the [two] managing partners don't do a great deal and are very well remunerated for it", said a junior solicitor. But at least "We started receiving semi-regular emails from management at the start of the pandemic, which was welcome". One office head "swings from sociopath to psychopath", claimed a solicitor working under the person in question. "I would categorise it less as management, and more dictatorship. I'd honestly rather work for Donald Trump".
Dentons (23%) received a savaging for its management decisions. "Firms where the PEP has been reported as being £650k per annum or thereabouts should not be racing to hack 20% off salaries and claiming furlough funds at the first sign that it might not be as great a year as last", said a junior solicitor. "I am sure the Partners might just about survive if they received £450k for a single year".
"Clowns", said another furious associate. "Zero time wasted implementing a 20% salary cut. Partners spouting how they have taken a 20% cut in drawings too. Umm, whose pot do you think that money stays in?! Must think the employees are the village idiots"
"We've clearly come through the year financially strong", said a trainee, "but the rather brutal decisions made along the way have left a poor impression - furloughing trainees, looking at a redundancy round for secretaries, pay cut for 6 months, sacking loads in real estate and energy".
"Not happy about being put on furlough for 2 months in 2020", said another trainee. "That's a valuable chunk of my 6 month seat that I lost...I get the business reason for furlough but doesn't feel great knowing that you're the first out the door when shit hits the fan. All ultimately pointless as Dentons decided to pay back any furlough money they claimed from the government".
Golden Turd Slater and Gordon scored 21%. "The CEO told the Gazette 'We don't want to be a law firm'", said a partner. "He didn't say what he does want us to be, but 'sausage factory' seems to be the vision."
"It is a complete nightmare", said another S&G partner, "We have no idea if the business will be here next week, never mind next year. Constant management changes, closing of offices - and this was before the pandemic. Rumours of debt, unrealistic targets, senior staff being made redundant. It is stressful".
"We have a 6th head of department in 4 years!" said a senior solicitor. "They make me want to cry with the incompetence", said a junior lawyer.
"I feel they have come into their own of late", ventured another Slaters junior solicitor. "Certainly I am in a much better position that friends working in other firms who have been told to come to work during a national lockdown to set a good precedent".
Staff at Debevoise & Plimpton (13%) benefitted from fortnightly update calls with the managing partner, said a junior solicitor. "These have been informative and they've given proper data about the financial performance of the firm (all good thankfully), but every time he speaks he does sound like a hostage reading out a script and assuring everyone he is being treated well". "The inmates at Broadmoor are less psychotic than the partners I work for", said a paralegal, one of several colourful responses which accompanied dismal scores.
However, Womble Bond Dickinson took the bottom spot for management, with 11%. Even trainees, usually delighted just to be in a firm, were unimpressed. "It's quite something when management in charge of trainees can't remember your name after knowing you nearly three years", said a WBD trainee. "They really pissed off the trainees by extending the training contract by six months", disclosed another, "saying that was what the rest of the legal market was doing (yes, in that legal powerhouse city of Newcastle) and that it meant there would be more NQ positions available. Then the NQ job list comes out and it's total crap".
One trainee said a partner "suggested it might be very helpful if I said how serious WBD take BLM" in the survey. "Is he serious?!! Just for that bottom mark!"
WBD's strategy was a puzzle to its people. "The firm's tie up with the US seems increasingly strange when many partners (outside London) take a very parochial view of their practice area and don't want anything to do with the US or, indeed, London", said a junior solicitor.
"The management have an identity crisis", agreed another junior solicitor. "They talk about being an international firm then make decisions in step with high street firms".
Communication internally was "very poor and externally often embarrassing", said a senior WBD solicitor.
"No one heard or seen from the board since lockdown", said a junior lawyer. A senior solicitor said, "It's an open secret amongst managing associates that the partner group has fallen out with the management board. Partners see the board as spending too much time worrying about their own personal positions and slagging each other off rather than on running the firm in a pandemic".
Still, "Managing partner and Chair are both stepping down, which is good", offered a senior solicitor.
I am a lawyer at a national firm that has scored in the bottom 10 in every category so far but totally fail to identify with all the low scores, as do the colleagues I work with most closely in my own team/office. I really think ROF needs to publish the number of people at each firm (or claiming to work at each firm) who responded to the survey. It could well be that a small number of disgruntled colleagues in one team/office is totally skewing the overall results. Come on ROF, it would add so much more credibility to your survey!
That FBD trainee really has drunk the kool-aid. What firms are slashing and cowering? Nearly all firms that cut NQ pay have since restored pay to the previous amount.
US firms are making more money than ever and are rewarding their associates appropriately - see the market rate NQ pay of £140,000 at a number of firms now along with bigger bonuses and additional COVID bonuses last year (in recognition of the amazing year many of them had).
Fair enough if you like the management at FBD but I don't think associate compensation is something to praise them for when you look at the market rate across top-end (incl. US) London firms.
Dentons - by far the worst firm i have worked in.
Everyone on 20% salary cut for 6 months. The second that comes to an end they announce significant redundancies. Claim furlough money from govt and months later decide to return it.
Very badly managed firm. Poor performing partners just cruising along and milking tje firm. They have treated staff very badly during the last year only adding to the difficulties being faced by people and families during the pandemic.
This is a car crash of a firm
PEP at dentons is unlikely to be anything like £600k on average.
Womble Bond Dickinson sounds like it’s in real trouble. The kind of trouble that leads to firms closing.
Is 11% the lowest score ever?
Anon 8.44 seems to have made a few typos in that first line.
Surely “I am a lawyer at a national firm that has scored in the bottom 10 in every category so far...” was meant to read “I am in the marketing team at Wombles or Slater & Gordon...”
This comment from a Freshfields 'trainee' (definitely not HR or senior management at all...) made me laugh "They must be doing something right if they can keep the £100K NQ salary while everyone else is slashing and cowering", said a trainee.
Imagine thinking it's a good thing everyone is so unhappy despite being paid (ever so slightly) more than MC peers.
8.44 sounds like a total [redacted].
There is always some kind of attempt by HR/management to cover up or hide how badly “singled out” individuals have been treated at Freshfields, so that no one else ever knows about it. Mobbing is a pastime for the partners, particular if the target doesn’t fit the FBD “type”.
Funnily enough, we don’t discuss this at our “Being Freshfields” woke sessions.
Actually, no. Definitely not! Keep trying!
Thank you. You have a good day too. Stay safe!
Law firms known for bad management go into a death dive.
Clients know that you don’t keep the best lawyers if you’re a sh*t place to work. Pretty quickly instructions go elsewhere.
To be fair to Slater and Gordon perhaps ROF should not report on them anymore as the CEO said they don’t want to be a law firm.
Credit to all the junior lawyers who stuck their neck out and told the truth to Roll on Friday.
Redouble your efforts next year as the marketing team will be doing everything they can to hide your misgivings.
Irwin Mitchell - 23 partner departures in this financial year and still not over yet. That's 10% of the partnership...in 12 months.
How can I take part in these so called "surveys" you are sending out? I've been working at one of the above mentioned firms but never received an invite to take part in your "surveys". Makes you wonder how representative this really is. Without publishing the number of participants I guess we will never know....
Thousands of people enter RoF’s survey every year, they splash it all over their website for weeks. Why didn’t you just fill it in like everyone else?
PEP is not the same as drawings, not by a very long chalk...
To think Debevoise shunned a merger with FBD a few years back because they weren’t sure the quality was there. Debevoise has certainly picked up more than a few psychopaths from FBD over the years. Judging by this survey, the two firms missed a real opportunity.
So where is the problem with Wombles?
Is it the London office? Or does the Newcastle office still try to lord it over the, frankly better, offices? Or is it the lack of real integration with the US?
RE: Anonymous 19 February 21 10:57
Thousands of people enter RoF’s survey every year, they splash it all over their website for weeks. Why didn’t you just fill it in like everyone else?
This makes it very representative then.... What stops one person from entering numerous surveys via different browsers??? Your answer should really make you question the seriousness of this.
WBD has been exposed as the failed project that it is. The merger between Bond Pearce and Dickie Dees did little more than allow Johnny Blair to say he was now the MP of a ‘national’ outfit. The reality though was that the offices continued to operate as silos, with no genuine interaction between them beyond unproductive ‘department’ meetings. Then came the London office, which never got off the ground. It largely attracted partners that had received the chop elsewhere, who then didn’t bring in much of their own work. A handful of these newly recruited partners did well but then left as soon as a firm with a genuine London offering offered them a post. Alas, there was now a national outfit with the addition of a London office (adding plenty of cost but limited benefits). Despite not having truly merged Bond Pearce and Dickinson Dees the board decided another merger would be helpful. This time a venture into the US market, which again was only a merger on paper. No combined equity pot and no real cross over in work beyond the odd minor project here and there. However, the firm was now an ‘international’ outfit. The mergers thus allowed for an external picture of a firm achieving successful growth, but the reality was these developments were no more than PR stunts. Covid comes along and the failed project is exposed. Significant numbers of the staff furloughed, followed by redundancies, with no clear strategy from the board on how to move forwards. The firm must drastically adapt or sink.
As someone who jumped off the sinking ship that is Dentons in the last month or two, I can’t tell you how much I have been enjoying watching the firm get a well deserved public drubbing these last few weeks in the ROF survey. They bullied everyone into signing up for the pay cut, everyone then worked practically a seven day week for the next six months anyway, they repay the furlough money and then announce redundancies the second the Hexagon flexible working scheme was over. Throughout this, “management” have basically told staff to stop complaining and get back in their box. It’s disgusting. I could go on and on but suffice to say I think the firm will lose a lot of good people this year and it will be totally their own fault.
Another PR disaster for Dentons.
Poor morale, ineffective management, offices shutting, partners leaving, low cost centres, working from kitchen tables, no bonuses, partners shagging the staff. Inspiring leadership.
Clients pick up on this stuff.
There are a lot of people on this post getting a bit over sensitive about associates telling it like it is. Marketing Departments out in full force, it seems!
Maybe if firms didn’t treat their staff so badly they wouldn’t need to get defensive about their ROF survey results.
@Anon 11.21 and Anon 10.53
Comments illustrating the problem with big law firms, particularly those at the bottom of this particular pile. Everything bad is brushed under the carpet. The messenger is attacked instead of the message being heeded. The few decent people in such places turn a blind eye, becoming enablers. The bad ones continue to get away with their atrocious behaviour.
Most people have better things to do
11.27 - how should Wombles adapt following the 11% score?
Would you rather:
Live in solitary confinement with the Krankies; or
join Womble Bond Dickinson?
I don’t even work for any of the mentioned firms but I do find it very entertaining to watch how people are slagging off their firms instead of just resigning. Nobody makes you stay where you are. But if reading the results makes you feel better for a couple of minutes then so be it. Back to work on Monday and a bit more of the same I suppose.
It’s very simple, generally.
If you really don’t like your firm, and are good enough to get another job, then leave ASAP or take positive steps to test the market and register with recruitment consultants etc. If you’re not good enough to get another job, and think you should be paid more, then I’m afraid you’ve found your level.
Just don’t expect most law firms fundamentally to change. Lawyers, generally speaking, make bad to mediocre managers as everyone knows, because they inevitably rely on the core skills that served them well for years - rational / logical argument, picking apart flaws in arguments, being largely risk averse, being rewarded on their own personal billing, and also being exposed, in the case of partners who trained at least 10-15 years ago or more (which persons are the ones who tend to manage firms now) to poor management themselves by way of role models when they were training. Law firms as business structures are almost invariably owned by the equity partners, who will themselves have that core legal skill set, and who - whilst they may delegate some responsibility to a management board, which again is normally run by lawyers - set the culture. And that culture tends to be one that maximises their remuneration above all else, and rewards those who can assist in this, given they are out of the partnership at 60 or so in many cases.
Yes, some firms are changing and some firms have come out of covid well. But compared to industry, for example, where graduates are chosen and then specifically trained for management and leadership skills over years and years, and where and it forms part of their job roles on which they are assessed and promoted, most law firms lag well behind. Nowhere outside of law are companies run by lawyers. Blue chips would laugh if you suggested that you filled the boards with lawyers and allowed them to run the company. It just doesn’t work like that. Whereas, in most law firms, it is the lawyers who are predominantly involved. Even the non lawyer business services directors are ultimately subservient to the partners who own the firm. In most law firms, management and leadership ability isn’t in reality a key requirement for promotion or reward, and isn’t really valued, and is secondary to what you bill, what clients you have and can develop, whether you are prepared to invest huge amounts of your time and life to these things often at the expense of your mental and physical health and personal relationships, and whether you are technically strong enough - and often, sadly in this day and age, whether your face fits.
@ Spectator, 12:14
In fairness to those people, I don’t think it is as simple as “just” resigning, especially in the current climate.
No use leaping out of the frying pan into the fire.
Here is a good measure for law firms.
Look around and see if many employees are in their 40s and 50s.
If it's largely filled with people in their 20s and 30s with a small number of senior people in their 50s and 60s beasting the youngsters it's an indication that it is not a great place to work.
Bristol based firms are well represented on this list - seems more telling if you’re not on it... Means you’re not as much of a player in the market as you’d like to think perhaps?!
WFW was 37% in 2020 and 26% in 2021 in the ROF FOTY for management.
How is this possible? They got two managing partners!
If they had only one would that mean the scores would be halfed or doubled?
@Reverend Thomas Bayes 19 February 21 11:38
I wasn't attacking any message at all. The point I am making is that this ranking does not mean anything unless the number of participants per firm are published. The fact that they aren't tells you everything about how representative this ranking actually is. If people want to let off steam, they should do so internally with their superiors or management instead of using this platform.
Dentons is an absolute sh1t show. The pandemic has exposed just how terrible the firm really is. Very very poor financial management, obsession with numbers, toxic culture, treating their fee earners and support staff like dogs and general chaos.
Blame lays at the top - incompetent senior management and partners at every level and in every team particularly in the London office.
Why is Dentons European arm returning staff covid paycuts to all staff but not Dentons UK? UTTER GREED!
I would actually rather work at Womble Bond Dickinson than Dentons.
Good to see Watson Farley still competing with the MC!
These surveys just show what firms are good at PR spinning and cajoling people into taking part. For ROF's part, they've done a good of creating a survey, with no publicly available data, that generates salacious shithousery. Good work. It's astounding that any trainee, lawyer or partner would shit on their own doorstep. Am I the only one that feels the last couple of years trainees are jumped up, over-entitled idiots? Maybe my lack of ability to empathise with gen xyz, or most humans in general is the issue. If you don't like the firm you work in, get out, but in law, the grass is rarely greener on the other side.
You seem awfully sensitive about all this. The results must have touched a nerve somewhere in Jonestown. Since you ask, there is a threshold of responses per firm before ROF publishes results. Firms with only one or two responses aren’t featured.
If your bosses are making your life a misery then there’s no point complaining internally. At the shops at the bottom of the pack being a pig ignorant, entitled, incompetent, lying, bullying backstabber is a key qualification for advancement. Complaints serve only to highlight candidates for promotion.
You can’t expect any help from HR at the firms at the bottom of the pile either. They have similar promotion criteria, their job being to protect the firm from its employees. Complaining to them would only be painting a target on your own back.
@bustergonad - just wanted to acknowledge your use of “salacious shithousery”. Kudos 👏🏻
Didn’t Dentons Europe cut pay but not hours (hence refund), whereas Dentons UK cut pay and cut hours (hence no refund)?
I am loving the posts from people who try and claim the survey is unfair or bent because their firm is in the bottom third. You are where you deserve to be but why accept that when you can continue being delusional and avoid fixing the problems which clearly exist?
Reverend, so you’re saying that the threshold for responses before a firm is given a rating impacting that whole firm is three responses? Taking an modestly sized city office with 500 people employed (and many have more) that produces 0.006% before roll on Friday publishes, purportedly on behalf of the firm as a whole (given they are ranked as firms, and no indication of the number of responses is given), this entire process seems utterly flawed and open to a low number of malcontents or overly positive responses messing up the results. You’d need at least 75-100 responses before it gets anywhere near to representative. You need to publish the number of responses next to the ranking to give context.
What's with the weird survey comments this year? Comments are filled in anonymously by current employees simply to give an idea to other lawyers of whether it's a good or bad place to work... Honestly I find the ROF survey the most reliable source of information on firm culture. Unless you know someone at a particular firm it's probably the most impartial source you're going to find. People have nothing to gain from trashing or praising their firm on this survey, unlike marketing teams..
Dentons cut back hours in all but name. Everyone ended working 5-7 days, total beasting. Eversheds have just announced they are returning covid money back to staff as have plenty of other firms except the greedy sh1ts at Dentons.
Rev. Jim Jones will answer all of your questions about the statistical basis of the ROF survey soon, including how firms with less than 75-100 employees would need that many responses to rank in the results. You keep drinking that Kool-Aid.
I'm not actually that convinced about its reliability. There was a certain Bristol-based firm that used to regularly come top of the rankings. But I knew people who worked there who thought it was an absolute joke. They just couldn't understand how the firm performed so well based on their own experiences of the place.
Will ROF publish survey results from people who admitted they work in the marketing team of each firm?
To Reverend - more attention to detail needed. Name one law firm - not a collection of self employed people - with fewer than 100 employees. Just one.
Here are 5 law firms under 100 employees, all ranked in the Legal 500 and obviously nothing to do with the dross featured in this article:
1: Signature Litigation (around 50)
2: Enyo Law (around 55)
3: Sacker & Partners (around 85)
4: Peters & Peters (around 85)
5: Fox Williams (around 95)
Another slug of Kool-Aid should help soothe your injured pride. Have yourself a good weekend!
Reverend - exactly, not a single one is relevant to this article, ranking, process or discussion. The discussion is about the firms involved and ranked in the above list. You seem to be shadow boxing my friend and making irrelevant points - perhaps you need to put the battery acid down and join me in the Kool- Aid.
Anonymous 19 February 21 10:57
The very definition of 'Echo chamber' perhaps
To me, to you ... 19 February 21 12:46
Are the two down ticks from the managing partners?
Anonymous @ 16:51. Do those employees complete the survey though? If they think the ROF survey skews positive for their firm, they should make sure they complete it next time round to give a more rounded impression.
Surely the partners in the firms scoring lower than 40% must be thinking that they need to take action and change their firm’s management as a matter of urgency.
As long as partners are making money they just don’t care.
I used to find it strange that so many Wombles ended up at Foot Anstey...then I read the firm of the year results and it makes perfect sense.
Trainee retention at about 50% pairs up nicely
Culture is such a crock. Law firms have a single culture; to enrich those at the top.
The culture is one of naked greed.
The word is used by those at the top to try and control independent thought and keep everybody in line.
if you are at the bottom of the table then you have been found out and you can’t make your people “un-see” what they’ve already seen.
Surprised Stephenson Harwood isn’t in here. Terribly managed firm apart from being conservative on budget / cost.
Dentons. Astonishing that they announce to The Lawyers pay rises but doing mass redundancies in their real estate, construction and energy teams. You cant write this stuff.
Irwin Mitchell have had 93 Partners leave in 3 years according to Companies House, and have committed to long term leases on oversized offices with their main work source PI drying up. They had £20m of debt before Covid and solicitors are working from home without access to files as they are paperless, and without admin to help. Lawyers are having to ask Defendants for copies of Court Orders.
Yet they are ordered to positively fill out ROF survey. Does this sound like competent management?
You must be really badly managed to be in the bottom 6 bearing in mind some of the basket cases outside of the bottom 6.
I would wager that the bottom 6 will struggle to retain their talent now that firms are scaling up in anticipation of the end of lockdown and a return to normality.
Which of the six relegation zone law firms will be gone by next year’s survey?