They trained for years for this moment.
Management teams have not been tested like this since the financial crisis over a decade ago. The moving famine of Covid and associated rules and lockdowns challenged law firm bosses to keep their staff on-side as they chose whether to implement pay freezes, pay cuts and redundancies, all while tackling the logistical joys of mass working from home.
Against that infectious background, staff at 21 firms still scored their management over 75% in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2021 survey, signalling their approval of their firm's direction during the pandemic.
Firm of the Year 2021 Keystone Law topped the management poll, helped by the fact that its people, many of whom are partners, work remotely already. It was "very light touch", said a partner, "but with all the support I need". "A million times better than the organisation of the City law firm I was an Equity Partner of for 22 years", said another. "They don't go sticking their nose in where it's not wanted", added a third.
Travers Smith came joint second with a stonking 93% for management. "I don't think I could have wished for a better management team to steer the ship in these times", said a junior solicitor. Outgoing Managing Partner David Patient was "a legend", she added. A senior solicitor agreed: he "Can't believe many managing partners in the City know quite so much about everyone in the firm". The verdict on the top team was "smart and thoughtful", and that they "get it right on all the big decisions". They were "not just moneymakers", said a colleague. That view was borne out by the "enormous efforts" Travers made "to look after everyone during the pandemic", said a senior solicitor.
Triple RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Mills & Reeve also scored 93%. "The present senior and managing partners are a class double act anyway, but have exceeded expectations in the way they have communicated with everyone through the pandemic", said a senior solicitor. "They have sent emails every other day keeping everyone updated on what's going on at the firm", said another senior solicitor. "I totally trust that the management team has the best interest of the firm and all the people at its heart", agreed a third.
Senior managers at Osborne Clarke (91%) "are great, unstuffy, down to earth, human almost", offered a junior solicitor, while MP Ray Berg "is the legend he appears to be", said a colleague, noting that "His Spotify Ibiza-mix got me through some hard Joe Wicks workouts".
"One of our values is kindness, which I still find gobsmackingly refreshing even after a few years of being here", said a senior associate at OC. It "remains a firm which is not all about the cash, not all about partner profits, not all about keeping the top slice of the firm happy at the expense of the rest of us", she said.
OC staff and fee-earners took a 7% pay cut "to ensure redundancies didn't have to happen", said one of the partners, all of whom "took a much greater pay cut which only gets reimbursed once the staff have been paid back". This "seems fair", said the partner, as the partership "should feel more pain when things aren't as good to protect the firm, the people and the culture".
Burges Salmon (90%) "really pulled out the stops this year to keep in touch with everyone and to keep the firm feeling like a good place to work", said a senior associate. Staff said they were "impressed by the firm's decision to repay furlough money to HMG".
BS management handled the covid-19 crisis "very well" said a junior solicitor, "and I think the firm's genuinely nice culture is led from the top down”. The Senior Partner "will usually stop to have a quick word if you pass him in the office", they added, "although perhaps that's because there's very few people in the office at the moment".
Macfarlanes came joint 6th with 89%. "Old school management but gets the job done", summed it up, said a senior associate. "To be fair, management have been brilliant throughout Covid", said another: "Full pay, no furlough, bonuses paid in full and pay reviews reinstated in October and backdated to July". "Awesome", agreed a colleague. "Two bonuses and a back-dated salary increase during 2020? Unbelievable."
There was "Excellent management of the corona crisis, and it feels like a firm where management genuinely care", said another Macs solicitor. "It was telling that the partners chose to top-up the salaries of furloughed catering staff (who are employed by a third party) so that they did not suffer any decrease in pay during lockdown", pointed out another lawyer.
Putting it in vaguely Putinesque terms, Clarke Willmott (89%) was "Well managed by a strong and kind CEO", said a partner, while the SP and MP at DAC Beachcroft (89%) "are the Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo of the law firm", claimed a partner.
"Super open, down to earth, transparent, but very ambitious" was a Shearman & Sterling (88%) senior lawyer's verdict on her firm. "Great management in general through the pandemic by Matthew Readings", said a junior solicitor.
"They chose to give us more money and, for that, we have no choice but to Stan", said a junior solicitor at fellow US firm White & Case (83%). "Having said that, the repeated references to working at W&C being a 'lifelong experience' during firm-wide meetings are faintly terrifying".
"I never thought I'd approve of a Mel B that wasn't a Spice Girl", said a senior W&C solicitor, "but our Mel B is a goddess. She handled the COVID crap pretty masterfully".
While there were grumbles about management being dispersed around the UK, Shoosmiths still scored a giant 83% as well. "They've done a fabulous job at keeping everyone informed", said a junior solicitor, noting that, "There have been disgruntled employees here and there, but their concerns are always addressed". This year "they have really learned to communicate big time", said a paralegal.
"There have been redundancies, but none of those were Covid related and (being honest) I think were probably a long time coming as they were in support roles that were just no longer needed", said a Shoosmiths solicitor. "No one was happy about being put on reduced wages, but it helped that the partners also took a hit", said another lawyer. "In general they are keen to show their appreciation for everyone continuing to work as normal throughout this shitshow of a year", they added, and Shoosmiths partners "have been quite liberal with 'Above and Beyond' nominations this year (basically vouchers given out for working hard)".
RPC (82%) management had "No issues at all", and had been "Very good" said junior solicitors. "They genuinely seem to care about the firm being happy and a good place to work".
Mishcon de Reya's (81%) new Managing Partner "is a superb communicator", was the verdict from Mishconners, while Covid also appears to have brought the best out of TLT (79%). "Comms have become better over the last year, no doubt spurred on by the reactions needed to COVID", said one respondent. And "The new chieftain, John Wood (aka Woody), has been really decent throughout", having "naturally grown into the role of statesman".
People at Bird & Bird (77%) praised the "regular videos from the biggest cheeses". Covid management "seems to have been solid - cautious, fair" and "reasonably transparent".
CMS management (77%) even won round some doubters with its pandemic response. "I've been dissatisfied in the past", admitted a senior solicitor, "but feel they've done very well over covid".
And at HFW (75%), while management "made a bumpy start of it" according to a junior solicitor, "normal pay was resumed, bonuses paid, Christmas bonuses paid, pay rises have been made in line with inflation, and the hope is that the money taken in the temporary pay cut will be repaid". The firm also "listened to complaints" from staff "and has been making efforts to boost morale", including the dissemination of £50 gift meal vouchers, Hotel Chocolat hampers "and questionable (but surprisingly amusing) Xmas management comedy YouTube videos".