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Firm of the Year 2017: The Worst-Managed Firms
10 February 2017
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Management has huge influence over all aspects of a firm, and RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2017 survey has revealed which leadership teams are, according to their staff, rotten.

Sloping under the 50% cut-off, Trump-lovin' US firm Jones Day came twelfth from bottom with 46%. It is "probably the most maligned firm in the City right now", said a lawyer there, despite "genuinely nice people, friendly partners and good quality of international work". Others said there have been "a few pretty ropey lateral hires at the partner level", plus a "lack of vision, lack of dynamism and the fact that Jones Day is the official counsel to the Trump campaign". 

Bircham Dyson Bell was scored 46% by its staff, who said it was "basically controlled by a cabal of senior partners who seem to spend most their time working out what to send their salaries on". BDB "seems to lack direction in what they want to achieve", said a more diplomatic employee.

Shoosmiths' management, earning a poor 37%, was blamed for moving the goalposts on a promised new Manchester office, "continually pushing back the date for relocation time and time again". There was "not much transparency behind decision-making from the top", with a leader who "is a nice man but weak", which "has allowed bullying and really obnoxious behaviour to thrive". One office, said a lawyer, is suffering under a "megalomaniac asshole" and his "sycophantic deputies".

Once-trendy media firm Olswang rode a fixie bike straight down the tubes thanks to over-expansion. Staff, who scored it 35%, said that if one described management as "literally running a once great firm into the gutter, then yes they've definitely managed it. They're managed the fuck out of it". The leadership comprised "truly evil people who have slaughtered a once truly great animal", said a lawyer, "through the hubris of their arrogance, greed and utterly incompetent management".  Their communications with staff about the merger were "opaque and often misleading", which fostered "a high level of uncertainty" over the past year.

Huge-paying Kirkland & Ellis received 34%, with management blamed for a lateral hire culture clash. "Excellent colleagues keep leaving to be replaced by Linklaters people", said a lawyer, and management's excuse that "we were going to fire them anyway" had "worn very thin". The new joiners possessed "half the personality and double the ego" of the people they replaced, said a critic, "despite bringing less to the table (face time excluded)". But others said the naysayers simply "don't like the fact better trained and more experienced lawyers have come from the Magic Circle". Existing practices at Kirkland "were haphazard and frankly change was needed - people not happy with it should shut up or leave".

Not too long ago insurance and shipping specialist Ince & Co was the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year but, said a lawyer, it had become "a septic tank", in the sense that "the really big chunks rise to the top". The firm had "seriously gone down hill since moving to the new soulless, cheap and unfinished Ikea open plan office", where collaboration was "impossible" and the "constant threat of merger (/take over) hanging over the firm is unsettling". Grade: 33%.

Browne Jacobson bosses spent "so long inventing a strategy, we've created a strategy just to create one". Management's decision to communicate the year's highlights via "internal propaganda media 'BJTV'", in a parody of Peter Kay's Car Share acted out by the Managing Partner and COO, "was as courageous as it was unnecessary".

Tying with BJ was Berryman Lace & Mawer, which suffered from "stupid middle management with no common sense. None". Its "vision to 'future proof' us, aka Project Graphene, is so sexed up with management speak that it is totally unfathomable". BLM's values, said a lawyer, were "currently defined as courage, teamwork and focus. Perhaps the management should get some courage and focus and start paying the staff properly instead on wasting thousands on dressing up its corporate image". The management was "just diabolical", said a colleague. It was "bad before the mass exodus of the Southampton office to Keoghs but now it is worse. The firm seems to think it's a good idea to run a culture of fear by having unpredictable and frankly unprofessional individuals in the most senior roles". Senior Partner Mike Brown's "ridiculous goal of being 'leading global risk and insurance business by 2020'" was "undermined by 'Where's Brown Been?'", a "monthly map showing him travelling, by jet, from Manchester to Liverpool...Plus he wears short-sleeved shirts". After losing AXA, the MOD, and half the Southampton office, the top dog "reminds me of that dog in the meme surrounded by fire".

    How management works 

Fourth from bottom, Kennedys was judged "badly run". The "wrong people are partners", who are "either ineffectual wet flannels or rage-fuelled terror hawks". At Irwin Mitchell, on a tragic 22%, staff "can't wait to hear who management will blame if once again IM fall towards the bottom of this survey. Maybe it's time they looked at themselves rather than blaming everyone else". Problems included the "clueless" and "distant" executive board which asked for opinions "and then does the exact opposite". A solicitor said, "I've never worked anywhere as bad at espousing the virtues of collaboration and rewarding the most those who do the exact opposite". Management "are a joke", said another. "Partners are leaving all around us and all we are told is we don't need them. All I see is falling profits, partners running for the doors and no real direction". An optimist said, "they have at last replaced a failed board with one which will hopefully succeed".  

Slater & Gordon
's disastrous year losing "over a billion dollars" on the monumental Quindell cock-up sent management "into hiding", said staff, but the dire news continues with a 17% score. In the UK S&G was "shoddily run by sight-seeing Aussies over in London for a couple of years to tick off Europe". But in all seriousness, said another lawyer, "it's like the Fall of Rome without the preceding greatness".

Of course Golden Turd KWM came last. 4% was the lowest score for management ever received in RollOnFriday Firm of the Year history. It was a miracle KWM managed even that. The way SJ Berwin was run following its "sod-awful" merger with KWM, said a lawyer, was "a textbook example of an utter disregard for a firm's financial health and its staff. I bloody hope they teach this as a case study in business school".  It was "utterly mismanaged by a bunch of self-interested c**tflaps who wouldn't know integrity if it came up and bit them on their corpulent wobbly arses", said a colleague. Such was the scale of the "monumental balls-up from senior management", which was "verging on negligent", that their achievement was "almost impressive". It "went from SJB to bust in 3 years", said an ex-KWMer, "- that takes some doing"


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