"We're not wearing these suits for protection, but to avoid having to see or speak to each other"

Last and least, eight firms propped up the bottom of the table for culture, scoring 48% and under.

Freshfields' score of 48%, meant that it placed 47th in the table. The Magic Circle firm was in the bottom four last year for culture with a similar score of 49%.

"There is very much a 'look-at-me' culture, encouraging narcissism, presenteeism and running around preening yourself in front of the senior staff," said a trainee. "You get used to people crying," said a business services member of staff. "Freshfields is a finishing school for psychopaths." 

"I've started to feel that elitism, bullying and racism are resurgent and are not going anytime soon," said a junior lawyer, who was also critical of the Senior Partner referring to "Blacks" in his email.

Another lawyer felt that the "discussion on improvements to culture inevitably ends up trying to fit into a woke agenda as a big diversity play, rather than actually thinking of ways to make it a decent place to work."

One trainee suggested that the firm's culture has been "killed" by the "Beckwith scandal", as future post-deal drinks and parties would be "heavy with the fetid scent of fearful partners". But a senior lawyer said "there was a huge fuss following the Beckworth scandal about improving culture which resulted in a few management run slideshow presentations. Then it was back to the old."

In 48th position, Kennedys scored 41%. "the junior partners' treatment of some of the lawyers is not always consistent with the firmwide messages," said a lawyer.

"There is a high profile woke culture pushing a version of diversity but which is in fact profoundly unequal," said a partner. "It all goes back to the clique that is in charge and the atmosphere of a medieval monarch's court.  We virtue signal and promote a small number of people who tick diversity boxes, and at the same time totally neglect the career and personal development of our staff."  


Watson Farley Williams was in the bottom two for culture in the last two years. The firm also achieved a woeful score this year of 29% placing 49th.

"It's a toxic plague pit run by sociopaths," said a junior lawyer. A senior lawyer agreed: "The firm habitually promotes individuals who in other walks of life would be terminated for improper behaviour. It is, at best, a series of petty fiefdoms. Everything unpleasant that you may have heard about the firm is simply an understatement; the reality is that no employee is happy." 

However, a minority of respondents thought that the firm was trying to make changes. "There's still a bit of a way to go, particularly with some of the less engaged and more old fashioned partners, but generally the firm's culture seems to be improving," said a senior lawyer.   

Dentons placed 50th with a score of 26%. "A culture of paying and treating staff like Victorian peasants but expecting a premium and smiley service from them," said a junior lawyer. 

The firm has merged "with everything" but forgotten "about the people who got it there in the first place", said a senior lawyer. "Biggest does not mean best." Another lawyer said "the global management trumpets a merger every couple of weeks that has no impact on our day to day lives, work, clients etc" and "there is no discernible direction or culture to the firm".

Another senior lawyer concurred: "The firm used to have a brilliant and supportive culture. However, in the last 3 years, the firm has grown exponentially and has lost this in all but a few offices."  

"The dinosaur partners still run things," said a senior lawyer. "Here's hoping that the WFH revolution is about to kickstart real change."

Knights came 51st with a score of 25%.

Slater and Gordon was given the lowest score for culture last year. The firm was given a rating of 23% this year, placing third from bottom. "The culture is toxic, no security, everyone is out for themselves," said a business services member of staff. 

"The SG way is to pile more work on top of already unmanageable caseloads when people leave," said a junior lawyer. "They talk a lot about mental well-being but that's lip service."  

A partner criticised the firms for "daily monitoring of time recording and the requirement for immediate written explanations if it falls below 4.5 recoverable hours in any given day".

Womble Bond Dickinson came second from last for culture with a score of 14%. 

"There is still a huge divide between offices," said a lawyer "and the Bond Pierce / Dickinson Dees split".  A trainee also cited "big tension between the regions and London" as a reason for the poor culture.

"Laterals used to join the pre-merger firms because they were friendly and supportive especially Bond Pearce," said a partner. "That culture has gone but laterals who join are sold the friendly collegiate approach, only to find it is now dog eat dog after the renumeration rule changes last year and they depart soon after."

A senior lawyer said the firm had been "overtaken by the small but very vocal group of eat what you kill brigade".  A female partner agreed that "eat what you kill" had created "Wolves in Wombles clothing".

At the bottom, this year's most gloomy firm for culture is Debevoise & Plimpton (London office), with a score of 13%. "In one phrase, it's the nastiest place in London," said a junior lawyer.

"The firm's culture seems to be marred by incompetence," said another lawyer, claiming that a group of partners and senior lawyers sent a marketing letter to in-house lawyers but "none of them bothered to check the names on their mailing list before sending. The letter was sent by post to in-house lawyers who had left, retired or died. Naturally it was all blamed on anyone except them." 

Tip Off ROF


EX S&G 12 February 21 09:44

At S&G some of the staff were OK, but generally a nasty, bullying and vicious environment to work in. The Annual Waste of Time (the PDR) was a joke. Absolutely NO career progression. No recognition of going the 'extra mile'.

Flipper 🐬 12 February 21 10:06

Those old enough to remember the last recession and how Dickie Dees Partners behaved will know there has been no meaningful change in culture.

Frankly, as long as that clique remain in post, what chance is there of Wombles improving on that measly 14%. 

Kelvin Doyle 12 February 21 10:30

A certain firm will be pleased with the letter writing expertise they’ve just picked up from Debevoise. 

Mighty Mouse 12 February 21 11:44

How shit does the culture have to be in the firms at the bottom to score so low in culture when hardly anyone has been in the office over the last 12 months?

Freshfields Trainee 12 February 21 11:46

Honestly baffled by Freshfields' score here - I have genuinely found it a great place to work with kind and supportive colleagues at all levels. Obviously there are stressful times but I personally feel it is a warm environment where personal and professional growth is both nurtured and encouraged.

Shaq attack 12 February 21 11:53

The partners and lawyers responsible for writing marketing letters to dead people have now left the firm. Good riddance. 

Anon 12 February 21 12:03

Freshfields Trainee - you are so very lucky. It is hell on earth if you're in the wrong team in the wrong department. Glad it's all finally coming to light. I'm sad, though, because I used to feel like you. Maybe things will change under the new Senior Partner.

Anonymous 12 February 21 12:46

@ 11:18 

US firms haven’t been “left out”. This article is looking at the eight firms that propped up the bottom of the culture table, scoring less than 48%. Debevoise is the only US firm that falls in the category (bottom of it in fact). Other US firms haven’t been “left out”, they just didn’t score low enough among respondents to be included in this sorry group. 

Recovering survivor 12 February 21 12:51

The Debevoise London office is widely known to be a fetid gulag where solicitors’ hopes and dreams go to die. Even the stacks of money (currently £130k at NQ) can’t remove the foul stench of bullying and thuggery many partners and associates display at that shop.

Reality Check 12 February 21 13:06

Life is too short to stay at s*** firms. 

Why would any decent lawyer stay at Wombles or Debevoise with those dire scores? 

Anonymous 12 February 21 13:58

@Plod 13:14. I will give you a clue, it is a collection of nasty and incompetent individuals who have recently moved on to another firm. 

Anon 12 February 21 14:13

What I fail to understand is why these people choose to stay at firms when they are so unhappy. Surely you leave and find another job rather than hang around and fill in a Roll on Friday survey?! Oh - hold on a second - maybe you can't get another job?!

Anon 12 February 21 14:14

Hello Freshfields HR at 11:46. I did a vac scheme at your firm not so long ago and got my first taste of laddish sexism from the most obnoxious twits I’d ever met. I have friends who joined and whenever I have a bad day at my current firm I speak to them and count my blessings.

Neutral Observer 12 February 21 14:16

Can you please post the number of participants per firm? Otherwise this ranking is very pointless and misleading once again.

Anonymous 12 February 21 14:36

Should Wombles or Debevoise learn lessons from the result or dispute the poll?

Thumbs up - learn the lessons from the result

Thumbs down - dispute the result  


Anonymous 12 February 21 14:37

@Anon 14:13 Look I am sure you think you are super employable with your experience working at MacFarlanes/Travers ("we are just as good as Magic Circle but with better work-life balance") but I think you have some nasty surprises in store if you ever test the job market. 

Anon 12 February 21 14:48

Urgent memo to Freshfields PR from senior management:

Quick quick, arrange another interview for the senior partner and announce a new initiative. Get HR to tell everyone what an amazing culture we have, again, as they did not understand the message last time.

Close all toilets so can no be longer abused by blubbing weaklings.

No further action necessary as our psychos will be too tired for backstabbing when they have to climb hundreds of stairs to reach their offices when Bishopsgate opens. 

Anonnnnnn 12 February 21 14:52

@plod 13:14 & @anonymous 13:58 How do 2 or 3 individuals recently leaving the firm affect the unhealthy environment? London office employs about 200 - 20 of those are partners. Only 1 senior partner has left the firm recently. So how can 2 or 3 people leaving account for the whole of the office?? There are many departments at Debevoise. It’s time to accept it’s a London office issue that needs to be dealt with rather than shift the blame to the easiest target. The bad environment has been happening for many years. 

Escapee from the psychopaths 12 February 21 15:22

They're not all pyschopaths at Freshfields.  But a lot of them are.  And not just the lawyers,  Things might change under new Managing Partner who apparently is very nice.  Hope they don't beat that out of her.  She seems to have already started clearing out some of the psychos.  

silence is violence 12 February 21 15:33

I worked at HL and had had a wholly horrible experience. What strikes me as important in these discussions is the role of the non-bullying partners.  I  was unfortunate to work for bullying partners, but their behaviour was widely known across the firm and widely tolerated/ignored. People may judge the firm on the nice partners they meet, but why aren't those nice partners standing up against the bullies?


are any firms actively booting out partners for bad behaviour? if not tolerating such behaviour is just as bad as the bullying itself!

Former employee WBD 12 February 21 15:35

10.39  Your attitude is why there is such a problem at WBD especially in the London office and it needs to be addressed now.

Not funny 12 February 21 15:46

I was bullied into mental illness at Freshfields. They are very high up and are still there. Dangerous place.

The Hunger Games 12 February 21 16:29

It was like The Hunger Games at Freshfields.  The whole marketing department voted with their feet and fled the toxic environment, yet still the people at the top refused to do anything about it.  Looks like it's changing now.

Mayer Brown Alumnus 12 February 21 17:24

Am I the only one who finds the Mayer Brown score suspicious? The year after they won the golden turd we were all sat down in front of the partners and told that we had to give shining reviews of the firm or else it would hurt our own reputations and employability.  The importance of shining reviews was repeated in team meetings every year in the lead up to ROF survey time.  Maybe it has changed significantly since I have left but I would be very surprised if the toxic culture has actually disappeared - truly depressing place to work and only made manageable by a few genuinely lovely people.

anon 12 February 21 20:13

1535pm. The Wombles Newcastle/Regions v London tensions have been one of the unexpected beneficiaries of lockdown. A beneficiary as those tensions have been resolved once and for all. The London model is bust. For years Wombles have sent regional work at regional rates into London to keep the London wages lawyers busy. This annoyed the regional pay lawyers very very much. London tried to recruit proper London lawyers but why would anyone decent leave a big firm with big clients, big backup and big money to take a risk at an unproven London office of an otherwise successful regional player. Or if they did and were decent did not stay long. Now all lawyers are working at home very well and everyone realises there is no need to have lawyers in London at all. Yes some nice meeting rooms but lawyers not needed. End of debate. Now the Southampton office is running the firm watch out big changes are coming. Time will tell whether the Wombles will be boom or bust. But one thing is certain, London is no longer the centre of the Womble universe (and neither is Newcastle anymore)

Anonymous 12 February 21 21:46

If you are bottom 4 then you have a shit culture. If you look at the bottom 4 then there are no real surprises based on what you hear in the market. 
They are there for a reason. Leave as soon as you can, never be tempted to join them.

Laugh from afar. 

Anon 12 February 21 22:57

Interested to know what people have heard of the other US firms not listed in the survey by way of reputation? 



Pierre d’or 13 February 21 09:31

Not surprised about Debevoise. What moral atmosphere could one expect from a firm who hires someone who helped instigate an illegal war...  

Culture claims fool nobody 13 February 21 19:54

Those firms with a shit culture are generally run by delusional tossers who wander around claiming that culture is all important.

They will of course ignore this survey because it emphasises how badly they are failing.

Blah 14 February 21 11:56

Dentons in the bottom rung of law firms with terrible culture and very well deserved. 

Cutting staff salaries by 20% during pandemic and lying to say this was done to stabilise the firm and avoid redundancies. Immediately following resumption of normal working patterns they announce significant redundancies across their various teams so that partners get richer than they already are. Liars. Absolute liars. 

Anonymously anon 15 February 21 15:26

Struggling to see how Shoosmiths isnt lower down in the table. It's 'famous culture' isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Anon 15 February 21 20:57

Struggling to see how Freshfields isn’t lower down the table..... they’ve done well to score so ‘highly’ considering it’s TOXIC culture. 

Ex Lovells 16 February 21 06:23

Always been surprised by the decent reputation my old shop has. There were some real ghouls when I was there. As someone else noted the banking departments were not pleasant at all!

Anonymous 16 February 21 07:51

Culture is such a load of tosh.  How can you have a good positive culture when those at the top are each trying to extract as much money as they possibly can?  They couldn’t give a toss about those sitting with them at the top table let alone those who are well below the top table?  
The legal profession is all about greed and self-interest.  You only need to look at the firms at the bottom and link the press and market intel to their places in the table.  

Anon 16 February 21 10:26

Anon 16 Feb 21 @07.51


Totally agree with that.


It's painful to watch some of these UK law firms talk about improving "culture" and "diversity" but then you go on their webpage, look at the Partnership and they all look like a bunch of hoo-raahing-privately educated-Oxbridge-polo-shirt and chinos wearing-Henrys. The lot of them. 

Serious q 16 February 21 11:57

Does WFW have a culture tsar? Is that the job title?

What do firms call the person saddled with pretending anyone is valued?  And yes not just lawyers.  

Anon 17 February 21 06:57

Dentons is the most toxic firm I’ve ever come across. 

The way they treated staff during the pandemic is shameful. Implementing a 20% pay cut to avoid redundancies then starting redundancies as soon as the 6 month pay cut ended. Using furlough money for months then backtracking on it as they were so worried about any bad press. Just shows what a shambles management is. To think the government are one of their big clients and they thought it was okay to take public money and still pay their Partners what they do! 

Anon 17 February 21 10:36


"What do firms call the person saddled with pretending anyone is valued? And yes not just lawyers. "



Toxic 17 February 21 19:08

The earlier reviews of Dentons are terrible. Toxic, chaotic sinking ship.  The blame lays with the current CEO and outgoing Senior Partner who both sit in London. They exude incompetence. 

The firm is now implementing an enforced 35% salary cut for its real estate team as an alternative to redundancy and shedding staff all over. 

Terrible firm with zero culture, no morale amongst staff and now partners sleeping with their associates! 

Anonymous 18 February 21 14:14

Genuine question, does Wombles still have a rule about always having a Dickinson in the partnership?

I remember older Partners at Dickie Dees saying this with real pride back in the day. 

Slavers & Gordon 19 February 21 17:42

When I was (briefly) at S&G they had such a culture of 'cover your ass' it was unbelievable.  Before my induction was even over I was advised by a senior to specifically record and itemise all IT or technical issues so that I could prove I wasn't using that time to slack off and be punished for it later.

Irwin Mitchell Senior Associate 22 February 21 19:35

A toxic hellhole where I competent middling operational people make decisions above their capability of making.  Backstabbing and favouritism is rewarded by seniors.  Laughable score here and everybody knows it. 

You know who you are 25 February 21 07:55

Your culture stinks if you don’t repay furlough money or repay money you took from your employees.  I hope GCs ask awkward questions about how firm’s behaved during the pandemic and eject those from their panels whom behaved badly.  

Anon 02 March 21 12:01

Anon @15.52 - totally agree.  I worked in a wonderful dept at HL for years in a non-lawyer role, transferred to another and it was sheer hell, bullying and improper behaviour from all corners.  I left, quickly.

Never again 13 May 21 17:25

At Freshfields for 3 years. Never again. Most toxic, unhappy place I’ve ever worked. No clear strategy, people management is shocking and full of bullying partners. 

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