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The best law firms for work/life balance

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For those who value free time

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Having revealed law firms’ average arrive and leave the office times, it’s now time to disclose which firms are rated highest for work/life balance by those who work for them.

The results — which are derived from the Legal Cheek survey of over 1,500 trainees and junior lawyers at 56 leading firms — broadly correspond to time spent in the office, but also contain some surprises, suggesting that employees’ perceptions of work/life balance can be as important as the reality.

Overall, five firms received a ‘D’, seven got a ‘C’, 26 a ‘B’, 10 an ‘A’ and eight an ‘A*’. We have profiled the star performers below…

Shoosmiths

The firm with one of the earliest leave the office times of any major corporate player — Shoosmiths’ lawyers are on average out of the door by 6:23pm — has work/life balance as its ace card.

Expect no more than the “odd late-nighter” at the firm’s mostly regional offices, plus a relatively relaxed work atmosphere that contains “lots of banter with the partners”. Shoosmiths lawyers even get a day off for their birthday.

But bear in mind that it helps to be an early riser, with the firm’s average arrival time a dawn chorus-skirting 8:36am.

Shoosmiths profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Fieldfisher

According to one trainee, Fieldfisher has “not bad hours for a City firm, but it’s still a City firm”. That equates to a 9:09am arrival time and a 6:50pm departure time — so just shy of ten hours daily, which indeed is not bad for corporate London.

The firm seems keen to set itself apart from bigger rivals on work/life balance, with even the deal teams boasting that Fieldfisher’s hours are “as good as can be for a transactional lawyer”. An extra day off over the Christmas period is exactly what you wouldn’t get in the magic circle.

Meanwhile, time spent in the office is sweetened by thoughtful extras, such as “brownies, cakes or ice cream for the whole firm about once a month” and “strawberry tarts to cheer us up after the Brexit result!”

Fieldfisher profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

K&L Gates

The US law firm stereotype is proudly bucked by K&L Gates, where work/life balance is “very good”, insiders tell us. OK, so pay is also considerably down on American rivals, but do 20-somethings really need more than £71,000 a year to get by?

A “very friendly, collegiate atmosphere” means that “if you don’t have much work on, you’re not expected to hang around the office in the evening”. This translates to an average leave the office time of 7:17pm, which, when considered alongside the average 9:07am start and still eminently decent wages, seems like a pretty reasonable deal.

K&L Gates profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Howard Kennedy

One trainee sums up work/life balance at Howard Kennedy like this: “My area of law is quite unpredictable and so sometimes the social life will go out of the window for a few days but my superiors are very good at making sure that I get out the door at a decent time on a regular basis and the firm as a whole is very social so sometimes we all walk out the door together to go to the nearest pub!”

Average arrival and leave times of, respectively, 9:05am and 6:48pm tally with this tale. When trainees are in the office, “lots of seminars” ensure plentiful time for breathers.

Howard Kennedy profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Trowers & Hamlins

Trowers’ free breakfasts before 8:30am have helped create a culture of early starts, with the average arrival time of 8:43am one of the earliest in the City. But nor will you get away earlier from a City firm than the 6:17pm average Trowers departure time.

“A really good and friendly work environment” in which “the people make it!” hints at a less frantic vibe than next door neighbours Slaughter and May. Similarly, there is only one firm on Bunhill Row that offers “free days off over the Xmas period”.

Trowers & Hamlins profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Bristows

A consistent top performer in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, Bristows makes up for what it lacks in pay in treating its employees well. Average hours of just over 9-6:30pm are almost unheard of at a major commercial law firm operating in the City of London.

But, thanks to a diet of less deal-driven IP, technology, media and communications work, Bristows is able to behave almost like a regional firm

Bristows profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Bird & Bird

An expectation that trainees and junior lawyers “manage your own workload” creates “flexibility if you need to get out at a particular time”, report insiders.

This policy seems to have led to heightened levels of efficiency, with Bird & Bird rookies squeezing their work into days that on average begin at 9:14am and end at 6:50pm.

Busier periods are apparently eased by “real appreciation that you are working late”, and a mindset that dictates that “it should be an exception rather than the norm”.

Bird & Bird profile [Legal Cheek Most List]

Taylor Wessing

Although there are some grumbles about seats in corporate and finance, where “you could be paid a lot more for the hours you’re doing”, overall Taylor Wessing offers its young a distinctly civilised experience.

Less than ten hours are spent in the office most days, with the average start time standing at 9:02am and the leave time 6:59pm.

One trainee sums it up like this: “My first department had good hours, generally 7-7:30pm but if I needed to leave earlier (e.g. pro bono activities) my supervisor was always on board. My current department is quiet over the summer and I regularly leave at 6pm.”

Taylor Wessing profile [Legal Cheek Most List]


You can access all of our law firm profiles through the Legal Cheek Most List.

71 Comments

Anonymous

What about Irwins, Plexus, Keoghs and Lyons Davidson.

Non exhaustive hours. Almost 9 to 5.

Just the pay and reputation to overcome.

(21)(8)

Anonymous

I stopped reading at Irwin Mitchell. 😂

(28)(2)

Anonymous

Wouldn’t touch those shops with a 10-foot pole. Utter career kryptonite.

(18)(4)

shoosmiths trainee

Fook of, were d best firm in Thames Vally. dumb tossa

(7)(0)

Larooka Pip

I used to have the “pleasure” of working at Lyons Davidson, which is NOT a proper law firm.

What Clifford Chance is to Irwin Mitchell, Irwin Mitchell is to Lyons Davidson. Which says a lot.

(15)(0)

Crimbo

Legal Aid crime.

9-5 at worst.

Work from home when not in court or in conference.

£50K per annum.

It’s hell out there!

🙂

(9)(4)

Skadden 5PQE

£50k? How adorable, that’s literally almost half my annual Christmas bonus!

(31)(27)

Anonymous

Why are you commenting on an article about work life balance? Get back to billing.

(35)(13)

Skadden 5PQE

Hahahahah stay chippy peasant. If you’re lucky I might let you rent one of my apartments from my rental portfolio.

(10)(16)

Anonymous

How embarrassing for your firm to have a 5PQE larking about on here.

(31)(14)

Anonymous

But how’s your work/life balance?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Plexus? Is that the new gym near St Pauls?

(3)(0)

Captain Smith

Did you survey any decent firms?

(19)(4)

Bar Bar Black Sheep

Shock horror that the firms which don’t pay so well don’t work such long hours! BREAKING NEWS: There is a correlation between being paid more and being expected to put in longer hours- WHO’D A THUNK IT?!

(14)(2)

Anonymous

I would have to disagree. I work as a paralegal in a US city law firm and work on average 60 hours per week. I’m not paid any overtime, and my salary is £28,000/year. No bonus, no career progression, just exploitation.

(24)(4)

Anonymous

Yeah but you’re a paralegal. practically synonymous with exploitation.

(41)(2)

Anonymous

You won’t find a firm that treats its paralegals as badly as this one. I say this from experience, having worked at about 6 different firms, most of them being American firms, and from speaking to other fellow paralegals. In fact, my hours seem to be longer than London trainees in medium-sized law firms.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Then leave? What’s keeping you there?!

(14)(4)

Tyrion

Spoken like a true 16 year old.

(2)(6)

Tyrion

*truly privileged and entitled twat 16 year old

(6)(6)

Anonymous

You done sweetheart?

Anonymous

Just move. Working more than 35 hours a week for less than £40k is for mugs.

(13)(3)

bar bar black sheep

Sorry to say, but you are being taken for a mug. Move on you are being used.
Aslo you are paralegal- I bet the lawyers at your firm are working long hours and taking home big checks.

(12)(1)

Anonymous

The lawyers working in my department do not work long hours in my opinion (7/8pm) , in fact they always leave hours before I do. I am often the last one working in my department. I usually get given “urgent” work at 7pm by a partner who then leaves shortly afterwards. Work isn’t urgent then, is it?

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Speaking of which, doesn’t the Working Time Directive stipulate that you can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average? I have not opted opt of the 48 hour working week and my contract stipulates 35 hours per week with “occasional overtime to meet the demands of the business”. Think I’ve got grounds for a claim to the employment tribunal?

(2)(5)

Anonymous

Good luck with that.

(1)(0)

Perplexed

Shoosmiths? Is that the new high street shop in Croydon?

(27)(3)

Shoosmiths trainee

I will have you know we are top 50 in england prick

(4)(23)

Anonymous

Top 50 high street shops I assume this person means…

(28)(0)

Anonymous

Funniest porkie pie I’ve heard so far. Keep ’em coming.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

What original poster said, the insurance firms have the best work-life balance due to reduced time in the office. The trade off is poor pay and a bad CV.

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Who in their right mind thinks that “My first department had good hours, generally 7-7:30pm” is good in anyway?!

(4)(0)

Bakers NQ

Huh? Leaving at 7:30pm is quite fine imho.

(1)(2)

Disillusioned

Comments like the above are what put me off pursuing a career in law. The snobbery over what constitutes a ‘proper’ firm is elitist and rude. The judgment of the choices of others is unnecessary.
It’ll all be defended with ‘it’s just a bit of fun’ but surely it’s obvious why, from the outside, law looks like a heaving pit of snobbery, classism, and one-upmanship.

(65)(5)

Anonymous

Nah, just don’t go working at pits like Shoosmiths or Irwin Mitchell. You’ll spend your waking days sending out debt collection letters.

(7)(7)

Anonymous

Why do people crap on well respected firms like Irwin Mitchell and Shoosmiths? Perhaps people who work here actually want to have a decent life and not have to pull all nighters in a top commercial firm and hate themselves all for decent pay. I highly doubt the majority of commenters on here are MC/SC/US firm trainee anyway.

(21)(7)

Anonymous

“well respected firms like Irwin Mitchell or Shoosmiths”

😂😂😂😂

(17)(10)

Anonymous

Agreed. You don’t even get this level of snobbery from wannabe bankers..

(20)(1)

Anonymous

In the adversarial system that is the common law, there will always be a competitive spirit fostered in the daily lives of lawyers. I do agree with you on how ridiculous it is now. They’re basing the snobbery off the quality of clients/work, which admittedly has been historically better at the big names. However they’ll be soon losing clients that don’t want to pay their ever increasing sky high rates to those regional corporate firms that bill lower. That or so much time will be written off that the firms’ miserable employees will have to work 3500+ hours a year to make that 1800-1900 billable hour target. Maybe they’ll clue in after the 4th divorce/heart attack.

(14)(1)

Anonymous

Obviously a high street lawyer.

(3)(7)

Anonymous

MC and US elite are going to lose their clients to regional firms?

I’ll have some of whatever you’ve been smoking please.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

Same, that must be some mad weed.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

I’ve worked with a regional firm that recently replaced Links and HSF on two separate panels, simply because they’re cheaper.

Also, originally from Vancouver so yah, the weed is pretty banging.

(9)(3)

US trainee

Dumb flog. Enjoy your regional salary.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

Addleshaws?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

This just shows that if you want a ‘good’ work/life balance, work for a distinctly average firm. There’s nothing wrong with doing so of course, but people are essentially faced with a choice between big pay packets and top tier work or a low, by comparison, salary and mediocre work.

What I do find astounding however is how many people who choose the ‘elite’ firms complain about their hours. It’s obvious that if you want to work for a MC or genuine US firm, and benefit from everything those firms offer, your work will take precedence over the rest of your life.

(13)(5)

Anonymous

Some of the firms listed are market leaders in their core practice areas (e.g. IP and tech) – certainly not ‘distinctly average’

(19)(3)

LegalRec

I can tell you now that some of the best GC’s out there started at regional firms. If in-house is your goal then regional is not a negative 75% of the time. And these GC’s are who the Partners at every law firm are sucking up to for work….FACT.

(13)(1)

Anonymous

I am highly concerned that the picture above represents brown brogues to be appropriate work shoes.

I suspect this is what Alex, whose Converse work shoe is also pictured above, thinks people with real jobs would wear.

(22)(0)

Anonymous

Best comment on this thread

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Burned.

(1)(0)

MMTrainee

Would personally question the lack of Burges Salmon and Osborne Clarke here. Also suspicious by inclusion of Taylor Wessing – certainly good hours for the city, but average leaving time of 7pm appears dubious, especially with a quote from one trainee describing leaving at 7/7:30 as a good time to leave within the firm.

(3)(0)

luvemesideways

There are crap/average firms. The hour figures from Legal Cheek’s survey are not gold plated Biblical scripture. They are what some (mostly trainees) reported from some firms in very different numbers, departments and offer a very subjective average. If you work in any sort of “city” firm doing work for corporate clients, they you will inevitably have to work long hours – lawyers regularly stay until 10pm-midnight at the firms and all-nighters are not unheard of. Yes, the hours are generally less hectic than the magic circle, but hugely so, life changingly so? No, not really. Chippy people who aren’t in the magic circle et al. suffer from cognitive dissonance and say “well, at least I earn decent money and don’t work 36 hour days like those magic circle lawyers.”. MC lawyers say the same about US lawyers who actually work the same hours but earn 60% more. It’s a mudslide of chippiness and deep down discontent.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

Bird & Bird, Fieldfisher and Taylor Wessing are all pretty good firms and in some practice areas market leading.

The strength of the MC is increasingly based on their position in M&A and finance work. In many practice areas they are relatively weak, or even not present at all (private client, IP, many areas of real estate etc). Many other departments are basically corporate support. MC is not the be and end all like it once was.

(12)(2)

luvemesideways

heh at mr. chippy. the magic circle leads for IP as well as RE.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

All of you are arrogant snobs. I have never seen such elitism in my life holy shit. I get this is the internet and people can post whatever they want but jesus. I for one would feel honoured and incredibly lucky to get a TC at any of these firms, but then again I love the law in general and don’t really mind where I do my TC. I suspect most people on here are just in it for the money and bragging rights. A sad, sad life.

(20)(7)

Anonymous

Hahaha said like a true peasant.

I heard Irwin Mitchell are hiring, you should apply.

(5)(8)

Anonymous

On what basis do you slate Irwin Mitchell specifically?

(1)(1)

luvemesideways

Two points. 1. The role of a solicitor has very little law in it, it’s mostly project and people management…if you really “love” law , go become a barrister – so off the bat, you don’t know what you’re talking about/don’t really understand the profession. 2. Decent people want to work at decent firms and earn decent money. So don’t have a go at people who are academically mediocre to strong who can get decent jobs either in law or outside, and wouldn’t therefore want to work at one of the above firms. It’s not arrogance, it’s realism. And you’re jealous.

(4)(10)

Anonymous

This has to be the most stupidest thing I have ever read. Don’t become a solicitor if you like law guys because apparently there is zero law involved in it. That’s right the fact that you have to do a law degree or a GDL and then do the LPC is in fact codswollop and you don’t need to know shit about the law. Keeping the intelligence level at an all time low LC comments section. Thanks for the lols.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

You must be a student or doing the LPC. Solicitors will usually admit that they practise little law in the course of their jobs. Most sols’ work is reports and correspondence: it’s fact management, not application of law.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

I am aware that practise is much different to studying but to say I shouldn’t be a solicitor because I like law is rather stupid.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

I don’t think anyone’s said that. But it is a fact that if knowing and using the law is what really matters to you, you’d be better off at the bar. Believe me, there’s next to no law in most standard tasks that sols have to do.

BTW, if you’re Anon @ 10.58 I do agree with you about the stupidity and bogus swagger of the law firm ‘elitists’ on this thread. They are probably just excitable aspirant trainees.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Yeah then I can agree with you there. Solicitors tasks are more administrative and less applying and arguing the law, but the role of a solicitor is to look at issues and find a solution to them using the law as an aid which is what I think I would enjoy doing. I most definitely don’t want to be a barrister as I would not be suited to it.

I really just disagree with all this bashing of different law firms because they aren’t prestigious. It undermines the hard work these people do everyday for less pay. We as a collectove should be in support of one another not constantly competing with eachother to feed our own egos.

(0)(2)

Hardy har har

Would you like some vinegar to go with that chip mate? Shit firms will stay shitty, no amount of polish or ‘work life balance’ will change that.

Ben

This thread is utterly ridiculous. Personally, I’ve made a conscious choice to work somewhere with a good work life balance. The flip side is of course that I get paid less. I’m not jealous of people with a higher salary: I’m comfortable, certainly compared to many other jobs, and it’s a choice I have made.

What it doesn’t mean is poor work. It’s interesting, intellectually challenging and feels worthwhile. I can honestly say we are the best in the country in my field. We have expertise that the biggest firms couldn’t offer – not, in fairness, that they would have any interest in offering it. It’s a bit niche.

(9)(1)

Jones Day Partner

The only thing I have time to balance are the several affairs I am having.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

Are women attracted to JD partners?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

The best work-life balance is rutting a secretary in the office while billing for it.

(4)(2)

Jones Day partner

I’m doing that right now whilst talking shit on LC, winnnnnnning!

(2)(1)

Anonymous

How about all the regional firms or any of those that actually win this award in the LEX 100!

(1)(1)

Comments are closed.