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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.