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Firm of the Year 2016 Stories

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Firm of the Year 2016: Work/Life Balance
05 February 2016
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When it comes to work/life balance, the most satisfied staff come from mid-sized city and regional firms. And there appears to be less stress out west, as three firms with offices in Bristol make the top eight.  

Clarke Willmott came top of the pile. Lawyers praised the "exceptional" work/life balance which allows those with children to see them "awake at both ends of the day". Grabbing the silver medal for work/life balance, lawyers at Bird & Bird said that whilst the "salary does not match the law firm rankings" at least they don't get "slavishly beasted" and are allowed a "life outside of work".

And with a vast improvement from last year, staff at previous Golden Turd winners Trowers & Hamlins said the work/life balance is "superb" as one lawyer stated that in five years they have "only once" worked a weekend. Also clutching the bronze medal for work/life balance, staff at RPC commended the firm, although one lawyer noted "a shift towards the 'work' end in recent years."


 
   

Magic Circle firms at the bottom end of the table came in for stick. A lawyer at Clifford Chance complained that "among several winning moments", a particular highlight was being threatened to "work over the Xmas/NY break ... to cover for someone on a Xmas/NY break".

One tired trainee at Freshfields grumbled "they just don't let us sleep. No one bats an eye lid if you pull out a 100 hour week". An A&O NQ reported that after-work drinks have dried up as lawyers are "either too busy" or "too scared to admit" they had time to socialise. And dne lawyer at the firm put it bleakly: "you miss out on a lot of life". Although another said it's "still better" than US firms and the "same as the rest of the MC". 

A Linklaters trainee compared the London office to "Royston Vasey" as "You'll Never Leave."

And its not just the Magic Circle demanding its pound of flesh as a Charles Russell Speechlys lawyer said Dante could sum up the work/life balance at the firm: "All hope abandon, ye who enter here". At Hogan Lovells many respondents said that they thought hours were better than at Magic Circle firms, although one revealed "despite the window-dressing, at heart, it's still an old-fashioned-slog-your-guts-out-and-wonder-where-your-life's-gone kind of place".
 
 

Trainee-spotting

 

Hill Dickinson, second from the bottom in the work/life balance table, recorded a low score due to uncertainty in the workplace. One lawyer reported, whilst looking over both shoulders, of people disappearing "in the middle of the night". Another lawyer observed "there is the smell of death about the place". A troubled Hill Dicks lawyer in fraud said they had "no idea" if their job was safe. Fellow shipping firm Ince & Co fared substantially better in the work/life scores. Although one NQ at Inces may have had questionable reasons as he said there is an "excellent work / life balance", consisting of "binge drinking down the pub" since there is "very little work coming in".

Work flexibility was viewed as important by many. Slaughter and May came in for praise for its "work from home pilot". At Nabarro, one lawyer said flexible working was on the up, particularly when people need to get their boiler fixed which has meant "we all have lots of boilers now."

Incredibly, an online interactive freebasing forum at Linklaters called "the Jam", set up to assess work/life balance, was referred to as a "gimmick" by one lawyer. Another Links lawyer said it has resulted in partners leaving at 6.30pm to ensure they have a work/life balance, leaving associates to pick up the slack "around the clock". However another staff member at the firm gave the initiative the thumbs for permitting staff a day off on their birthday, which is nice for those who don't want to blow out candles in front of the boss.

A lawyer at Macfarlanes said that the concept of flexible working was "like hearing about blue jeans in East Germany in the 1960s - we know that something else is out there, but the powers that be have not yet us glimpse it so far."  Although the firm fared well for its working hours, as one Macfarlanes lawyer commented "there is not a ridiculous always be seen at your desk culture."

Propping up the bottom of table, a Sullivan & Cromwell lawyer took time out of their busy schedule to say there is "absolute zero respect for personal life or personal commitments" adding "it is virtually impossible to have any semblance of a social life."