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Firm of the Year 2016 Stories

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Firm of the Year 2016: The firms with the best culture
19 February 2016
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RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2016 survey reveals that the majority of lawyers consider their working environment to be rather pleasant.

Over 3,400 lawyers rated the culture at their firms as good or excellent, with Bristol-based Osborne Clarke coming top. And less than a thousand said they considered it as average, poor or very poor (Sullivan & Cromwell can hang their heads in shame at this point).

Overall, of the 61 firms qualifying for the survey, only 13 scored lower than 65% for their culture and, with an average score of 78%, lawyers voted their firm's culture more highly than any other category. The lowest-rated category, law firm fact fans, was the always-unpopular loos category which will be analysed in excruciating detail in next week's vital edition.

The Cream

Bristol-based Osborne Clarke, which also came top for management, scored a massive 95% rating which means it is technically closer to the Age of Aquarius than a law firm. It seems it is blessed with a  "very un-snotty" culture and while it "sounds like a cliche", apparently "everyone is really super friendly and supportive".

One point behind on 94%, Bird & Bird offers a "friendly and truly enjoyable working atmosphere". Staff say, "everyone is so relaxed and friendly and just generally chilled out". It "doesn't have an eat what you kill culture - sharing clients and collaboration are strongly encouraged".

Joint Firm of the Year Burges Salmon received dozens of plaudits for its culture. "Having spent my entire career at BS I suspect I take many of the great things about the firm for granted", confesses one lifer, "but I regularly enjoy witnessing the (positive) culture shock new recruits have when joining the firm". Burges Salmon "is THE genuine alternative to life in the City", says another. New joiners agree that it is "a breath of fresh air" after London, while a partner's perspective is that the "highly collegiate" management culture "makes it a great place to be a partner".

    Bristol yesterday

Baker & McKenzie (91%) is joint third, thanks to a "collaborative and collegiate" atmosphere and a "strong stance on Diversity and Inclusion", which is "very visible across the office and clearly supported by senior leaders". A warning, too, that "aggressive individuals are quickly marginalized and will not last long here".

Travers Smith scores 90%. "We work hard (bloody hard!)", says a lawyer, "but, in stark contrast to my predecessor firm (which shall remain nameless), the partners go out of their way to show their appreciation". Apparently the room sharing system that seats partners, associates and trainees together is ideal for fostering May to September romances "a collaborative and open atmosphere". There "is a reason", says a senior associate, "why when people leave for the cash at the American firms they come back". Another says, "I stand by my comment last year. This is quite possibly the happiest private practice firm in the city". And while there remains a "gender imbalance" at partnership level (as with most firms), career progression for women "is taken seriously", say staff.

Mishcon de Reya also earned 90% from its staff. It is "collaborative, supportive" and "team orientated", says one lawyer. There is also "plenty of intrigue", and a "wide range of characters" . Apparently lowly solicitors can "talk to partners the same way you talk to people at your own level", while management has set out "core values which are not just a tag line, but are central to life at the firm".

The 80s

Joint Firm of the Year Shearman & Sterling (89%) boasts an "amazing esprit-de-corps" and "Colleagues who know what they are doing" and, er, "want to do it with you". Meanwhile a testimony from a Clarke Willmott (88%) lawyer provides an insight into why it scored so well. "I am a working class woman", she says, and was made partner because CW is "a meritocracy where you are encouraged and allowed to progress regardless of class, gender, race or regional accents". Although apparently "it's no place for adrenalin junkies".

Mayer Brown and RPC both score 86%, with the latter's "openly-stated 'no wankers' policy" proving "remarkably successful". The new maternity and paternity packages are also "excellent", while a non-fee-earner says "I was diagnosed with depression and the help and support I've had is amazing".

Jones Day scored very well for its culture (83%), though it attracted more comments about its staff's bedroom antics than any other firm. Partners "have a healthy sex life and sense of social responsibility", says one lawyer thoughtfully: "they help their trainees and secretaries by sleeping with them". There is "equal opportunity", says another, "for everyone to sleep their way up the ladder". A third alleges that there are "horny partners running around the place sleeping with their trainees and associates" (and goes on to identify the star performer).



Elsewhere, Reed Smith (82%) protects its culture with "a conscious effort to avoid recruiting arseholes (except lateral partners)".

And at BLP (81%), the "decent human being: dragon wanker ratio" is, hopes one associate, "decidedly better than the rest of the City".

The 70s

Dentons scores 79% for a "genuinely nice" culture. The Dacheng merger is making inroads, but at the moment it has translated primarily into a "palpable sense of excitement as the quest for world domination continues apace", and a "great sense of momentum".

Herbert Smith Freehills scores a solid 77%. Entering the London office "makes you feel like one of the Borg from Star Trek", but there are, says another solicitor, "only a few cyborgs scattered round the place". Lawyers cite a "friendly and welcoming" culture, however one suggests that it is "still an old boy's culture at the top of the corporate group", while "rampantly sexist and homophobic partners" in litigation are "laughed off as being 'of a certain era'".

     
 Exchange Square
   Borg Cube

At Clifford Chance (76%), the "dominance of the grey shoe brigade" is "living proof that the geeks shall inherit the earth". Which perhaps explains why there are "fewer chippy sociopaths in pinstripes than at some of its peers". Whereas at fellow MC firm Linklaters (75%) a trainee comments that life sometimes feels like "getting opened up by a partner wielding a heavy-duty car jack", adding, "it amazes me how many people seem to enjoy it!" Give it time.

Also on a strong 75% is White & Case. But it's not without its hiccups. One lawyer says that the Private Equity lawyers "sometimes appear to think the rest of the firm is 'corporate support'", with, "hilarious consequences when PE NQs aggressively attempt to instruct seniors in other departments with absurd deadlines, who promptly give them a bollocking".

At Macfarlanes (74%), one lawyer suggests there is a "toff-lad culture", saying, "partners still find it difficult to mentor women in their careers and don't think the lack of diversity is a problem". But others say that while "there can be a tendency for some individuals to be old-fashioned", it is "definitely the minority and not the majority".

Nabarro (73%) is "really supporting agile working now", says one lawyer, which, "as a working parent I think is excellent". A couple of associates brood that the "real estate department is too powerful". But never mind that: "You feel free to be yourself here - I sing in the corridors and no-one bats an eye".

The over 65s

DAC Beachcroft (68%) may be "basically an insurance gimp farm with a bit of a law firm on the side", but, says another lawyer, "there is no culture of intimidation. I trained at McClure Naismith and their Glasgow office was like the 7th circle of hell".

    A step up

For anyone put off by the Caligula-like antics at Jones Day, Browne Jacobson (68%) may be a better fit. The London office is "quieter than my law school library", while a trip to the regional offices "is like visiting the Swindon branch from The Office". Staff are "Not an unfriendly bunch", but it "feels like the IT system has broken everyone's spirit, so there is a tired quiet throughout the office".

On the brink with 65%, DLA Piper should look north. The Edinburgh office "increasingly resembles the Marie Celeste. But without the laughs".