What approach does your firm take?
The firm was praised for introducing an agile working policy last year, allowing staff to decide where and when they want to work.
"The 'Flex Forward' policy means there is no pressure to go into the office," said a paralegal, while "'Glide your time' means working at a time that suits you."
"Flex Forward has been an absolute game changer for me," said a senior lawyer. "It really lends itself to life with a small child. I split my working day around him, and feel like I am able to spin both plates pretty successfully, as a working mum and as a solicitor. I am far more productive without my commute."
"I can work from home without any negative judgment - it's great for me," said a Professional Support Lawyer. "I can avoid the rain at lunchtime to take my dog out mid-afternoon if I want to," commented a Business Services lawyer. While one senior lawyer was pleased that the flexible lifestyle meant they could "watch Pointless."
The Top 5
Clarke Willmott (81%) came second. "The changes brought about by Covid have been embraced as a long term goal - flexible working is almost a right rather than something you have to justify," said a partner. "I manage my own time to do my work and meet family commitments," said another lawyer.
"I love the option to work from home whenever I want or go into the office," said a business services member of staff. "There is no comparison," said a staffer who had moved from another firm, "the flexibility and work life balance at Clarke Willmott is second to none. You are never made to feel bad about it either."
Bristol-headquartered TLT (80%) placed third. "TLT are super flexible with home/office working, and staff are mellow when the 'child witching hour' arrives: 3:30-4:30." A partner agreed: "they've made the impossible (juggling work and kids) possible and I'm really grateful".
"Working from home most of the time now which lets me fit more exercise in," said another staff member. "Much healthier for it."
Mills & Reeve (79%) came fourth. "There is no expectation to be 'on call' outside of office hours," said a junior lawyer. "Our clients (and partners) know what they are paying for, and frankly, our hourly rates (and salaries) don't buy a round-the-clock service."
A senior lawyer said the firm set him up "tech wise" to work from home. "As a dad I wanted to be hands on and share the care of the girls with my wife. Nobody at work has ever batted an eye lid."
In 5th was another Bristol-headquartered firm Burges Salmon (78%). "One of the reasons why I applied to Burges Salmon was for their emphasis on work/life balance," said a trainee, "I feel that this has been true throughout my time at the firm." While a senior lawyer said: "I work 4 days a week (to look after children on the 5th day) and I rarely have to work on my non-working day."
In the middle of the pack, a common grumble was against those firms that had snapped back into "rigid" ways, after the lockdown. "I feel we could have approached our hybrid/agile working with better flexibility following lockdown," said a member of staff at Macfarlanes (61%), "given that productivity remained high while working from home, our policy seems a little old fashioned and restricting."
Another complaint at several firms was the inconsistency with workloads, with big peaks and troughs. "When it's busy we drown, when it's quiet we're dead. Doesn't seem to be a balance," said a senior lawyer at Hogan Lovells (58%).
Other lawyers at firms were close to suffering burn-out. "There is an expectation that I check and respond to emails at all times," said a junior lawyer at US headquartered firm Ropes & Gray (61%), "it can be hard to judge what is urgent and what can wait as more senior lawyers always respond immediately".
A trainee at fellow US firm Weil (58%) also said they had to be "constantly available", but noted: "I did sign up for this and, as my MC counterparts frequently remind me, at least I'll be on a big pay packet come qualification."
Staff at some firms complained of their employer paying lip service to wellbeing initiatives, while still working staff to the bone. "For a firm which notes itself on being a founder of the Mindful Business Charter, it quickly forgets the principles when mindfulness doesn’t suit the capacity agenda," said a senior lawyer at Addleshaw Goddard (55%). They added that associates in the finance team "are expected to work through evenings, weekends, holidays and even jury service".
The bottom firms
Norton Rose Fulbright came joint-57th with a score of 47% thanks to a perception of a "very poor" work/life balance. A trainee said that they "regularly start at 8.15am and finish at around 10pm". They felt "management have decided that the best solution is to keep on upping pay and chase the US model" when "more free time would have a far greater impact on my quality of life than more money at this point." Another trainee said "2am finishes are a regular feature," and "requests to work on weekends are not infrequent."
A senior lawyer said: "an ever-increasing focus on billable hours means that in busy teams, work easily reaches US-firm levels without approaching their support or pay."
Allen & Overy (47%) came joint-57th. "With the majority of the firm surveyed last year saying they only wanted to be in the office up to 40% of the time, management imposed a 60% in office mandate," said one unhappy business services member of staff. "The business teams are made to fall in to line, while swathes of the fee-earner population do WTF they like: 'I'm overseeing the installation of our new wine cellar. Please print off my papers and courier them over'."
"There is no work life balance. Evenings, weekends and holidays ruined or cancelled to do pointless work with psychopathic partners," said a junior lawyer. "I’m an A&O associate, get me out of here!"
US-headquartered firm Kirkland & Ellis (46%) came second in the pay satisfaction survey for its magnificent salaries, but placed 59th for work/life balance. "Rarely go home before midnight," said a junior lawyer. Another asked: "What's 'life'?" A Business Services member of staff said that while the firm offered some flexible working it was "best to have your phone with you at all times."
Linklaters (45%) was another Magic Circle firm to have disgruntled staff, placing 60th.
"Don’t work at Linklaters if you want to have evenings or weekends," said a junior lawyer. "And even when you work those, you’ll be told you’re not working hard enough."
A senior lawyer agreed: "Try as some partners might, work/life balance remains illusory. Love getting the emails about the importance of sleep and mental health when at 120%+ utilisation."
Another Links lawyer saw the positives: "It's pretty hardcore, and my friends in more chilled firms / in house laugh at me... but there are worse places to be. At least people say sorry and thank you when they've shafted you."
In another surprise appearance at the very bottom, fellow Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May (37%) took the last spot. Several lawyers were aggrieved at seeing so many colleagues heading for the exit doors. "There’s not enough lawyers after a mass exodus and too much work to go around with skeleton teams," said one junior lawyer. "So much so, people are resigning because that is the only way they can see an end to the constant flow of work," said a senior lawyer. Another lawyer said: "We work the same hours as US firms but get paid significantly less".
"'We don't give you billable targets' they say. True. But the workload they pile on associates is more than anyone could keep up with," said a senior lawyer, "not giving targets only enables the partners to save money by not paying bonuses".