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Firm of the Year 2017 results: The mediocre firms
27 January 2017
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Not all firm's excelled in RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey. 11 firms scored in the mediocre 50-60% zone, and the staff who marked them were nothing if not candid. Take an eye-opening canter through the offices of the unimpressive.

DAC Beachcroft

With 59%, DAC Beachcroft placed joint 47th with Reed Smith. The DACB corporate pyramid is "flat as a pancake", said one lawyer, explaining that, "it's one-in-one-out at the top and the incumbents are clinging on for dear life". There are also, said another, "loads of non-fee-earners in management roles whose sole function seems to be to produce meaningless middle-management waffle in internal communications". Another lawyer chimed in that, "some of the practice heads are either misogynistic dicks or are the intellectual equivalent of plankton".

Reed Smith


Reed Smith was castigated for hiking billable targets, but also for the "Innovation Hub", which was advertised as Reed Smith's "dedicated creative thoughts and ideas generating room", but which was, "in reality, an old meeting room where you can draw on the walls, sit at a round table" and "wonder if the sofas are meant to be that lurid or if Mr. Blobby has vomited on them".

    Reed Smith's optimised solutioneering node  

Hill Dickinson

2016's Golden Turd, Hill Dickinson, comfortably escaped its claggy embrace this year, although one lawyer uncharitably suggested that this was "sadly not because we have improved", but because "it seems other firms are doing worse than us". Apparently cost-cutting saw an attempt to make fee-earners use their own phones for work, "for a pitiful contribution of 10 pounds monthly". Another lawyer complained that the firm "remains completely focused on profit", meaning it is "now sub letting 2 floors", so the office is "overcrowded with three to a room".

Fieldfisher

At Fieldfisher, joint 49th with Hill Dicks on 58%, partners are "at each others throats, fighting over non-existent clients at times". While London has "ridiculously fancy" offices, the Manchester ones "are open plan with no dividers and far too noisy - and the partners are the noisiest!" Career progression past senior associate is, said a lawyer, "a joke", with some teams continuing "to haemorrhage their best lawyers because there's no genuine effort to strip detritus from the partnership or even to reform the broken attribution system which protects them". An associate reported being scolded for not using the firm's emergency childcare provision to remain at work: "And to think the firm claims to be supportive of families".   

Olswang

It doesn't feel so hip to be at media firm Olswang now, where the takeover by anti-cool CMS earned the reaction, "Yuk" from one junior solicitor. "Who joins a relatively small city firm with cool clients and sectors to suddenly become a speck on the face of the 6th largest law firm in the world doing financial services", they asked, concluding that the "sexiest firm in the City will no longer exist".

Another solicitor compared the merger to "the end of The Fly where Geena Davis holds up the shotgun to Jeff Goldblum's head and blows his brains out thankfully putting him out of his misery because he had become such a hideous monster". In fact, "there are lots of parallels between Jeff Goldblum's character and Olswang: early brilliance, stylish, good looking, but fatally flawed, overcome by its own arrogance and ultimately turning into a hideous monster". The partners who haven't left are, said another, "prancing around trying to make out like the merger is a good thing. It's a bit like putting an injured donkey out of its misery. It's embarrassing".

  That feeling when you merge with CMS and didn't spot a Nabarro in the machine. 

Simmons & Simmons

Simmons & Simmons is "run by complete numpties", said a junior associate, who was baffled by "how the legal profession has evolved to the point where we have multimillion, and occasionally billion, pound businesses run by a team of lawyers...Try suggesting to a FTSE 100 company that they should put their general counsel in charge and see what happens". Another solicitor said Simmons was "seeking a merger and pretending they can survive without it", while a senior associate spoke of "many departures from my department in the last few months - everyone else has their CVs out and are looking".

Nabarro

Nabarro lawyers raised more prosaic concerns. Evening meals "remain shoddy and there is an expectation to eat them rather than getting decent food in". And a trainee confessed, "as a claustrophobe, taking a lift 14 floors which constantly breaks leaves me in a persistent state of anxiety". However others were more anxious about the "uncertain" prospects following the planned merger with CMS and Olswang.

Charles Russell Speechlys

Several CRS lawyers said the merger between Charles Russell and Speechlys had been "a disaster", with the legacy Speechlys office "an awful open plan number with terrible lifts, air conditioning that doesn't work (either boiling hot or freezing cold) and toilets that are constantly blocked". Ex-Speechlys partners were proving to be "terrible managers", said one staffer. Even a partner alluded to difficulties, albeit in a muted fashion, commenting that there was "still a little bit of work to be done, perhaps, in ensuring buy-in to the culture from some legacy SB partners". One department head was described, not by a partner, as "about as useful and inspiring as a fart in a bean factory". 

HFW

On 55%, HFW "seems to be in the middle of a generational shift from some of the older dinosaurs to some of the more business minded people", said a senior associate. Although another said it was "full of posh boys with chips on their shoulders", and as "aggressive as a 1980's MC firm without the intellect".

Browne Jacobson

The annual away-day at a popular holiday camp was "the nadir of Western civilisation", according to an ungrateful senior associate, "and a compelling recruitment tool for ISIS". A junior agreed it was problematic, saying, "We've spent so long inventing a strategy, we've created a strategy just to create one which seems to involve packing swimming trunks and spending days navel-gazing with the squirrels at Center Parcs". A more blunt colleague said the problem was, "You can't do epic shit with basic people".

  "I've solved it! Someone get me a whiteboard! These aren't my kids! I've forgotten it!" 

Bircham Dyson Bell

BDB was cruelly dismissed as "a true bunch of misfits" by one of its lawyers, who told RollOnFriday that "one of our senior litigators has serious personal hygiene issues and often looks like he slept on a park bench, yet nobody deals with this". They should speak to Trowers. It "claims to be a prestigious firm", said another, "but mainly does the work Farrers doesn't want".

Click here to discover what went wrong for the poor old firms which scored less than 50%.

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