Analysis

The best law firms for quality of work — 2019 edition

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Even with better tech there’ll always be mindless trainee tasks, but at some firms much fewer than others

There’s no denying that trainee life involves plenty of grunt work. Over time, law firms’ embracing of new artificial intelligence software and machine learning techniques may change this. But for now those at the bottom of the food chain have to be prepared to do their share of mindless tasks.

Still, some firms make it so much better than others. We asked over 2,000 trainee and junior lawyers at the UK’s leading law firms to rate their quality of work on a scale of one to 10 (one being ‘Sorting mail’, and 10 ‘Lady Hale’). 15 firms out of a total of 83 surveyed scored A*s. What gave the top performers the edge?

The most common factor was high levels of responsibility. This tended to come mostly at the smaller mid-size firms or big US law firms’ London offices (which often operate a bit like smaller firms). A rookie at Mills & Reeve, one of the firms which got an A*, sums up the mindset:

“The work is really challenging and interesting (minimal grunt work here, except where necessary). I think that’s the case at smaller firms — they can’t afford for you not to get stuck in. The cases are more interesting as there aren’t 50 fee earners on one case working in multiple work streams with grunt work at the bottom.”

A Fladgate trainee makes a similar point as they report: “Actual client contact and proper legal work. Much better experience than juniors at larger firms.”

Echoing this sentiment is a trainee at fellow A*-scorer Shearman & Sterling: “The flip side to having a less structured training programme is that the experience is less sheltered, and trainees have exposure to a fantastic variety of interesting work. This is particularly true of the smallest teams, where the lack of any real structured training necessitates a more ‘on the job approach’, and lean staffing requires trainees to quickly find their feet, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. From becoming an expert in a new area of law, to drafting court submissions, to interviews and meetings, trainees can find themselves going from complete novice, to NQ level work in a very short space of time.”


The law firms which scored an A* for quality of work in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19

Firms listed in alphabetical order; winner to be announced at the Legal Cheek Awards on 21 March 2019

Bristows
Farrer & Co
Fladgate
Foot Anstey
Gowling WLG
Kirkland & Ellis
Macfarlanes
Milbank
Mills & Reeve
Osborne Clarke
Ropes & Gray
Shearman & Sterling
Taylor Wessing
Travers Smith
Walker Morris


There’s a similar vibe at Kirkland & Ellis, where a small pool of trainees leads to “staggering, daunting but ultimately very rewarding” work. In the same vein, Milbank rookies report “exposure to the kind of work you might do as a junior associate”. Meanwhile, the “top notch” work at Macfarlanes led a trainee to quip: “If anything I want more photocopying!”

Variety is another factor that is often cited in this category of the Legal Cheek Survey. At Taylor Wessing we are told by multiple sources that work is notably “varied”. One of the firm’s juniors adds: “I never know what will end up on my desk!” The Travers Smith trainee experience also has work that “varies enormously”. Bristows, Farrer & Co, Foot Anstey and Osborne Clarke get the thumbs up, too, for giving their young a balanced diet.

Also frequently cited by trainees at top performing firms for quality of work is good support from PAs.

“I am often given the opportunity to prepare the first draft of documents. I am never asked to sort out mail or photocopying,” one Foot Anstey rookie tells us.

Gowling WLG is also good in this respect. “The firm has a number of support teams and trainees are encouraged to use these where possible so to minimise the time spent on admin tasks,” an insider discloses.

The 2019 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

Ropes & Gray rookies tell a similar story: “There will always be more menial tasks to be completed, but on the whole (and given we have PA support) the work is very interesting.”

The final often cited ingredient for fostering top quality of work for trainees is decent supervision. A good supervisor, who sends juicy scraps trainees’ way and explains the wider context to the small element of the case or deal that a trainee is asked to handle, can make a huge difference.

With some Yorkshire bluntness, a Walker Morris trainee tells us: “Any trainee at any firm that says they don’t get given boring jobs is a liar. Part of the trainee’s place in any firm is to do the tasks that cannot be justified being done by someone with a higher chargeout rate. That being said, when there is interesting work to get involved in, the senior staff are good at getting trainees involved.”

Bristows, Gowling, Osborne Clarke, Ropes & Gray, Taylor Wessing and Travers Smith were also praised for having senior associates and partners who went the extra mile to make work interesting.

The firm with the best quality of work for trainees and junior lawyers will be announced at the Legal Cheek Awards 2019 on March 21 at the Cheesegrater in London.

Peruse all of the firm’s new 2018-19 survey scorecards — including training, quality of work, perks and much more — via the Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2018-19.

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37 Comments

Anonymous

first comment heehe

Anonymous

I know it’s probably not the best attitude to have but at 2PQE I absolutely adore grunt work. it’s mindless, you can’t get it wrong, and it puts solid hours on your clocks. I would happily sit on my 2PQE salary for life and just do admin work.

Anonymous

Totally feel this. Thinking is hard.

Anonymous

How boring

Anonymous

Loooooooool.

You’re the type of muppet who gets managed out at mid-level. You think you’re smashing it by clocking up billables doing fuck all; meanwhile your colleagues are kicking on.

It’s just as well you’d love to do admin for the rest of your life, since that’s very likely what will happen.

But that’s none of my business 🙂

Anonymous

Definitely struck a nerve there

Anonymous

Lol not at all. On the contrary, please continue to stand still. The more people who think like this, the easier it is for ambitious folk

Anonymous

In the interests pf transparency, are you able to say how much cash you received in the last 12 months from each of the firms listed?

Anonymous

Change the record. You are dull as shit.

Anonymous

I’m grateful for your advice, and the graceful way in which it was offered. After a good deal of reflection, I will not heed it.

Anonymous

Hi Alex!

Anonymous

I’m a little confused here. How do RPC not feature? Is the recent interview with Joseph Akwaboa not accurate?

Bristows?!

Anonymous

Indeed. It’s almost as if these lists are entirely arbitrary and thrown together without any real underlying, objective analysis.

Anonymous

I think RPC mistakenly paid for the article fee but overlooked following up with the smaller payment to be included in this list. Perhaps because they have somebody in marketing on top of it rather than a trainee (who are doing top top legal work). Perhaps RPC are just sloppy.

Anonymous

Perhaps it’s just not a top place to work…

Anonymous

I work there. It is reasonably nice. Not top, but good enough.

Anonymous

TOP FIRM

Anonymous

Stop trying to make lady hale be a thing, no one cares about her. Shes going to retire soon anyway

Anonymous

how dare you insult her

Anonymous

Hi KK xox

anonymouse

I believe it makes sense to see such a high number of US law firms featuring on the list. I suspect this is mostly due to the kind of work (and work environment) which is so characteristic of such firms. True, trainees are likely to work 12-14 hours a day with some of them being truly thrown into the “deep end”, although a selected few will eventually emerge to become exceptional lawyers and far ahead of their NQ peers at more structured firms such as SCs/MCs.

Greenberg NQ

Correct, or even better, emerge as a top, top titan.

Anonymous

1. The list is bollocks.
2.There isn’t ‘such a high number’ of US firms on the list.
3. Among US firms, the ones on the list are by no means the ones who get the best work (exception of K&E corporate + finance).
4. MC firms dick on these firms for overall quality (again, excepting K&E corporate + finance. Ropes and Shearman are good in finance but behind MC. They are bang average in other areas).

Good luck with your US TC applications though.

Anonymous

Milbank do get the best work for finance, Shearman for project finance etc. The obvious missing firm is Fried Frank for funds and, of course, Greenberg Glusker.

Anonymous

You don’t know what you’re talking about. This is London.

Milbank is 1000% behind Magic Circle firms in finance (and quite a few US ones, eg. Latham).

Fried Frank is crap, a long way off the best in funds and everything else.

Anonymous

Shh, you’re ruining the illusion

Anonymous

LOL! That’s simply not true.

Anonymous

Nonsense. Not about being “the best” but getting the best work – working for top tier bulge bracket banks and private credit firms is clearly among the top work available in the City.

Anonymous

Getting the best work is directly proportional to being the best. They are not discrete concepts. You mention BB banks – you mean the ones who overwhelmingly instruct MC firms, right?

There is really nothing to disagree with. You can write ‘Milbank is the best’ on your application form but it isn’t, best is a relative term, the work is better in MC finance teams and the likes of Latham, W&C. Milbank is behind them.

Not even going to bother mentioning Fried Frankfurter.

Dino/saw

It depends what selection pool LC use as with all these surveys it seems to be the same few firms. If you ask 2000 lawyers from 10 firms then the lists are pointless. If you ask 2000 lawyers from 60 firms then maybe a bit more useful. LC seem to love lists just for the sake of it.

Anonymous

Sponsa money

The Youtube Star

How is a trainee able to compare the quality of work across firms if they have only been a trainee at one place?

Anonymous

Clifford chance where art thou

Anonymous

MC firms are losing top partners and top associates to elite US firms. Eventually they’ll only get able to recruit and retain the leftovers.

Future lawyer

Surprised Cleary and Debevoise don’t make this list.

Anonymous

Not to mention Pillsbury, Bracewell, Davis Polk among others.

Anonymous

Bracewell, TOPPPPP

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