"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."