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Firm of the Year 2016: Best and worst career development
05 February 2016
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US and Bristol firms took the top spots for best career development in the RollOnFriday Firm on the Year 2016 survey, in the category in which staff rated their firm for career prospects, training and enabling them to fulfil their potential as lawyers.

Winning with an 88% score, Kirkland & Ellis provides "first class work", said a junior associate, though one partner warned of the "Darwinian" approach to promotions. Joint Firm of the Year Shearman & Sterling took second place, with trainees and associates vouching for "lots of responsibility" at an early stage, "always with support if needed".

Support was also raised by Osborne Clarke trainees, one of whom said "you are never left to sink or swim". The firm came in third with 82%, equal with joint Firm of the Year Burges Salmon. At the OC there is a "top quality" career progression plan, said another trainee. A senior associate said that writing the "Future Practice Plan" is awful, but "you feel much better for having done it" and "get partner help and buy-in to what your future practice will be".

    John's Future Practice Plan laid out a comprehensive 15 year growth strategy until it was wiped off that night

Partners at Travers Smith (76%) were credited with providing "wonderful support" by a senior associate. A trainee highlighted the firm's "excellent" review structure, whereby they receive four reviews per seat: two with their supervisor and two with partners to ensure that any issues they felt uncomfortable raising directly, like lycra in the office or pencil-chewing, are addressed.

A 9PQE partner at TLT (75%) said that career progression is "excellent" for "appropriate individuals", who can make partner within 10PQE (like him), while the "right candidate" can make the leap from Solicitor to Associate at 3PQE. Although, having said that, a 3PQE said there were "limited opportunities", because "nobody's moving or retiring".

Slaughter and May (72%) came in top of the Magic Circle for career development. While there are "almost zero partnership prospects" and a "blackbox" partnership track, fee-earners said they benefited from "working with the best minds in the business". A trainee said, "you are more often than not working on the biggest deals in town for the biggest names".

Mid-table, an associate at WFW (68%) said they were "regularly working across the table from the big firms", although a trainee said "old school partners" in the property department "get trainees to be their scanning bitches".

Macfarlanes (68%) was praised for its "great" quality of work, albeit one lawyer said that, as a woman who wants to have children, "I feel like I have more chance of sprouting wings" than making partner. An issue by no means unique to Macfarlanes.

Further down, at Olswang (61%) an associate said there were "no career prospects at all" with "almost 1 on 1 gearing" between partners and associates "not uncommon in certain teams".

At Nabarro (55%), plenty of staff vouched for the "good quality" real estate work and "good chances of making promotion and even making partner", but others were not so optimistic. Achieving eligibility for partnership "entails being designated a senior associate (often not until 7PQE+)", said one senior associate, then "being nominated by your department for the Talent Development Programme", then "being successful in the firm-wide selection process for one of usually only 4 TDP places in London each year", and then, "attending the two-year TDP".



Deep in the career retardation end of the scoreboard, at Plexus née Parabis (43%) partners "do not develop juniors", said an associate. "We're just a training center for DAC,Weightmans, BLM, Hill Dicks etc." said another, where, "even senior members of the firm admit that the only way to do well is to go somewhere else and come back".

Slater & Gordon, which a couple of weeks after the survey closed demonstrated its career development credentials by putting 51 staff into a redundancy consultation, came third from bottom with 16%. There is "no regard" for employees, said a senior associate, writing off the firm as "an embarrassment on my CV".

Golden Turd Hill Dickinson plopped into second to last place, but Sullivan & Cromwell took the wooden spoon with 13%. Staff said there was "No proper training at either the trainee or associate level", and one disgruntled lawyer claimed that during a recent seat, he was told trainees "only received 4 hours of training". Partners, meanwhile, "treat junior associates like trainees" and the quality of work they are given is "appalling". Overall, not great.