Perhaps unsurprisingly the smaller firms dominate the table for work-life balance in this year's Firm of the Year survey.

Bird & Bird, which boasts "a culture of leaving at a good time unless you absolutely have to", scored the top mark of 82%. According to one trainee work-life balance at the firm "is superior to all others that I have heard of", whilst another says "I work a fraction of the hours at my peers at other (particularly American) firms". Plus there are "social events on almost every night", so it seems those Two Birders unchained from their desks at 5:31pm have plenty of opportunity to celebrate the fact.

Perennial Firm of the Year over-achiever Ince & Co, where lawyers get "proper international work without becoming some sort of law troll that never leaves the office", came in joint second (81%). And joining Ince on 81% was Blake Lapthorne, which respondents praised for an "amazing work life balance", although there were some niggles that salaries lag behind competitors.



Further down the table, some of the US firms came in for a kicking. At Kirkland (59%) there is apparently "zero concept of work/life balance". While at Latham (57%) lawyers bemoan the "crazy" and "miserable" hours, although the pain seems to be mostly offset by the "piles and piles of filthy lucre" in exchange. And White & Case scored only 53% because "you work a 50+ hour week and get told you're really not busy enough".

But it was the UK firms which dominated the very arse-end of the table. Ashurst managed only 52%, with one lawyer claiming "it hides behind the facade" of having a work-life balance, but the hours "are as onerous as the magic circle firms". SJ Berwin (54%), which has a reputation for demanding its pound of flesh, apparently has "associates and trainees still working well into the night Monday to Friday". And a special mention to Herbert Smith Freehills (52%), where one staffer with meningitis was asked to work from home, claiming "it was only when I emailed the partner to say that I was in hospital that they finally backed off".

Four of the Magic Circle firms made the bottom ten. Allen & Overy (46%) respondents complained there was "no time for fun or social events" and a "worrying amount of pregnant women working late nights". While Clifford Chance, where "partners are excellent at telling you to have a better work-life balance - right before leaving you with a pile of new work", only scored 49%. As did Freshfields, which has "got one of the toughest work ethics on the block". One lawyer said "I've had now two weeks (+ weekend in between) of coming in early at 8.30/9 and leaving between midnight and 3am every single day".

But rock bottom was Linklaters (43%). "You will get flogged to death", complained one mid-level lawyer, "and then when you've recovered a bit, you'll get flogged again". Another said you could be asked to work "on Christmas day, New Years Day, Bank Holidays...any given Sunday...". One lawyer asked plaintively "can you ask Linklaters if their living wage commitment will extend to trainees putting in long hours?"

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