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Revealed: The best law firms for work/life balance 2021

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Which firms are offering the best of both worlds?

Although our typical understanding of the work/life balance has been thrown up in the air, with law firm offices up and down the country temporarily closing their doors, COVID-19 has made the need for downtime more important than ever.

The pandemic has thrown new issues into the mix, such as balancing family life, home-schooling and dealing with illness, all of which are causing difficulties when it comes to working the long hours expected of many City lawyers.

The pressure to ensure an appropriate balance between time ‘in and out of the office’ has now become a need to balance time ‘on and off the computer’, as lawyers relocate to their home offices — a move that may remain long after the pandemic is over.

To work out which firms have been nailing the work/life balance dilemma, we put the question ‘How is your work/life balance?’ to trainees and junior lawyers from nearly 100 of the country’s leading corporate law firms, as part of our annual Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. Respondents then rated their work/life balance on a scale of one to ten — with one being ‘Non-existent’ and ten being ‘Excellent, perfectly balanced’.

The results are in and we can now reveal which firms were awarded an A* for their efforts in promoting a good work/life balance for their lawyers in 2021. Here are those top 12 firms, listed alphabetically:

DWF
Fieldfisher
Fletchers
Forsters
Hill Dickinson
Irwin Mitchell
Mills & Reeve
RPC
Shoosmiths
Thrings
Trowers & Hamlins
Womble Bond Dickinson

The 2021 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

As part of the survey, we gave the rookies themselves an opportunity to give further insight into how their firms are managing to promote a healthy work/life balance by submitting anonymous comments. Here are a select few from some of the firms listed above:

How is your work/life balance?

“I would say the firm provides a really good work/life balance. The firm encourages you to get involved in social activities. In some practice areas there will be times where you are expected to work late but this is not the norm.”

“Good work/life balance is promoted throughout the firm although there are periods when you have to do longer hours because of busy spells in the department or matters you’re working on. This isn’t often.”

“No atmosphere of presenteeism. Difficulty with working from home is there is generally work to be done so can be hard to log off — but superiors are very flexible.”

“Really good work/life balance, no need to stay in the office ‘to be seen’. It’s a case of get your work done and enjoy your life too.”

“Considering the size and the reputation of the firm, I think that the work/life balance offered is fantastic. I can arrive at the office at 9 and leave the office at 5 without feeling as though there are any reprisals. We have a flexible way of working which means I can log on from home when I choose and take a break when I choose (schedule and meetings permitting).”

“It’s never perfect but definitely more manageable than many other firms out there. The teams are supportive and helpful with workloads.”

Besides the top 12 firms listed above for work/life balance, 20 firms scored an A, 31 a B, 23 got a C and ten a D.

The winning law firm in this category will be announced at The Legal Cheek Awards 2021, sponsored by BARBRI, on Thursday 25 March 2021.

The 2021 Firms Most List – featuring the Legal Cheek Survey results in full

69 Comments

FBD Is King

Also firms where careers go to die (or never really take off if you trained there)

(94)(40)

FlourPour

The only people that are proud of their (corporate) legal careers are those who have sunk so much time into it they have no other option. Many would would rather see their legal career go somewhere to die and pursue meaningful relationships and hobbies.

At the end of the day there is no such thing as a cool or even a respected corporate lawyer. If you work 12 hours per day (and weekends) solely for internet comment clout then it’s hardly surprising you don’t mind wasting your life creating shareholder value for demanding millionaires.

If you’re not bothered about having a life then work/like balance won’t matter to you but a career spent working 9-6 at any of the above firms will mean as much to someone reading your obituary as a MC or US firm. There’ll just be a lot more other detail around it.

(83)(98)

Adam

“There is no such thing as a cool or even respected corporate lawyer”

Hit the nail on the head.

Unfortunately, too many aspiring young lawyers set their heart on a corporate career only to realise it will not make them whole or fulfil their hearts desire. They start their TC and realise their ‘dream TC’ and ‘dream law firm’ is not as dreamy as grad rec and law fairs made it seem.

The law firms networking events and firm tours show you the swimming pools, gym, shiny new glassdoor offices with a state of the art firm restaurant. But they don’t show you the basement sleeping pods or the in house doctors and other all round staff to ensure you never have to leave the office because you will be working so many hours you won’t have time to see daylight. Not to mention the complimentary therapy services for the mental health detriment it has on you.

(53)(75)

FlourPour

100% agree. I don’t see how firms (like mine) can use their support for mental health as a supposed selling point – don’t any undergraduates ask why their employees would need such care?!

And another point to add about the cool corporate lawyers. The few cool ones that make it through never stay for more than a few years. They take the money and experience and leave to do something cool only the mad and nerdy stick around.

(21)(35)

Actually works at FBD

But on the plus, I guess they don’t have to encounter or pretend they like people like you on a daily basis.

(6)(14)

FBD is King

Lmao putting “actually works at FBD” in your title as if we’d fall for that. Get outta here, fresher.

(13)(5)

Tolstoy

Lmao, cool story brah. Back to your Zoom lecture on Contracts: Offer and Acceptance you go. You’ve got a quiz coming up, better be prepared.

(7)(2)

FBD is King

Totally original, Simp.

Bassoon

The joke’s all on you son. Good luck with your studies. 😀 😀 😀

Anon

True. Graveyards of ambition, exceeded only in the career death stakes by the offshore firms.

(40)(11)

fdfd

Different people want different things. Get a life.

(17)(22)

Jef

Jan 18 2021 3:01pm: I agree. Talented people want to stay onshore.

(11)(4)

topkek

Lmao, said as someone who’s never sampled the supple, moist delights of the Caribbean islands (if you know you know) whilst earning phat tax-free wadd.

Back to your wagecuck cage, little simp.

(10)(16)

FlourPour

No – lawyers onshore work for the talented people earning multiples of your salary. Most city lawyers that luck their way into the career aren’t as talented as HR would have them believe and will be squeezed into realising their mediocrity sooner or later.

The offshore lot just accept this reality later and jump ship into warmer waters.

(4)(10)

Jeff

Those who have the talent stay onshore.

Probably true

Though there should be no expectation that everyone should want to be a partner, I’ve always thought that it’s the partners at these firms who ultimately have the best balance in the City. Earning several hundred thousand quid a year and getting to leave at 6pm or 6.30pm much of the time – think that’s a pretty good trade off.

(54)(11)

FlourPour

And people should have no expectation that they will be partner.

My supervisor worked like a dog for years starting at 7am and never leaving before 8pm at a mid-tier city firm but was overlooked for partnership in favour of a guy who worked less but had better social skills and better connections.

Something stupid like 1 in 10 city lawyers actually make it to partnership at a city firm and that leaves a trail of neglected life events with expensively educated children who barely know you and a wife (if she sticks around) who acts like she doesn’t.

I love the comments from ambitious law students who are yet to sample the drudgery of 12 hour days doing the same tasks then putting the extra-curricular work in to nurture professional relationships. The reality quickly kills ambition and some of the more able lawyers I’ve known have packed it in for an easy in house career or something in the civil service where they actually get to spend time with their loved ones.

(22)(27)

In-house associate

Being phoned all hours of the night? Going home to switch on the home laptop to crank out a few extra hours of work before going to bed for 5 hours? Honestly, I don’t envy partners at all.

(8)(14)

Offshore3q

The same offshore firms where you get above MC salaries after tax, have a decent shot at making partner, and don’t have to live in a 1 bedroom flat in Zone 3?

(16)(32)

anonymous

The same offshore firms where nobody in the legal profession takes you seriously, and you spend your days as a postbox for proper lawyers onshore.

(31)(12)

Offshore3q

I’m so upset that I’m not being taken seriously by someone whose LinkedIn status probably reads ‘incoming virtual open day attendee at DLA Piper’. How will I sleep at night?

(38)(53)

PEPE

Too true mate. Offshore4lyfe.

(5)(12)

Jem

Offshore4failures.

Anon

Offshore is where you end up when your career has failed onshore. Nobody wakes up and says, “I am on the partnership track/I have got a reasonable chance of Silk in a few years. I know: I’ll give it all up and head offshore to become a postbox for onshore lawyers!”

(29)(10)

Offshore3q

When you’ve actually worked in the industry for a while you’ll realise that plenty (probably most) people don’t actually want to be partners at MC/US firms because the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t work for them.

It’s the right option for some very driven people who are willing to sacrifice work-life balance for about 15 years (trainee, associate, partnership track, junior partner), but there are plenty for whom it’s not remotely the right fit – they could do it intellectually, but it would make them unhappy.

I know it pains you to admit it when you’re completing your self-funded GDL and begging for a Zoom call masquerading as a vac scheme, but an offshore partner earning £700k and going for a swim in the sea each morning is having a phenomenally successful career and seems to enjoy it a sight more than most of the London partners I’ve met too.

(42)(65)

Offshore 6PQ

It’s true that working offshore for more than a couple of years is an obstacle if you ever want to return onshore, but it really depends on what you want out of life. I want to be paid very well (about £7,600 per month take home plus 20% bonus), live in a beautiful place and generally be out of the office by 6pm so offshore is great for me. Some people live for the long hours and London life and good for them.

(26)(40)

anon

….”an offshore partner earning £700k and going for a swim in the sea each morning is having a phenomenally successful career….”.

As you well know, being an offshore lawyer is by definition the opposite of being successful.

(37)(18)

Scots Trainee

Is that a thing onshore lawyers they’ll themselves to feel better about working their backsides off in private practice? Sounds like it. They type of thing really insecure people do when other people take decisions that questions their own choices.

City

Jan 19 2021 7:07am: as a trainee in Scotland, I would keep quiet in this debate if I were you. Scotland is a dead-end jurisdiction for those not able enough to work in England. And by the way, long hours go hand in hand with practising in the best legal market, and those who do so do not resent what it takes.

anonymous

Jan 18 2021 12:17pm: quite. These places like BVI, Cayman and the Channel Islands are the resting place for failed solicitors and barristers. If they had what it took, they would have remained in their home jurisdictions, and the “lifestyle choice” mantra is self-serving nonsense which they know to be untrue.

(24)(12)

FlourPour

and the offshore guys would say that the “have what it takes” lie is just something insecure onshore city slaves tell themselves to make them feel better about wasting their youth creating shareholder value for people 10-100x more successful than them.

I’ve worked with people who are incredibly bright with an instinct for CityLaw who just couldn’t be bothered to spend 12 hours per day paper pushing for the best years of their lives. If you criticised them for not having what it takes they would shrug and turn their attention back to the far better outlets for their intellect.

(5)(12)

anonymous

I worked offshore for a couple of years and was struck by the mind-numbing mediocrity of my colleagues. I was warned about this before I went and thought it wouldn’t be true. But it was. Stands to reason, really. Why would you leave the City, the most prestigious place to practise law, to work in a mickey mouse jurisdiction in an essentially back office function, other than because you lacked the ability to compete in the toughest market? When I applied to return to London, my applications were met with considerable scepticsm. I must have left because I was not good enough to remain; and even if that were not true, my years offshore would have blunted my legal skills. I was luckily able to land a role, but it was far from easy.

therealityisyouhateyourself

God imagine being proud of being an offshore lawyer – taking a bung to facilitate tax avoidance to society’s detriment … bravo!

(15)(3)

BVI Bigboi

But at least I iz earning dem tax free stacks son. You on the other hand 😀 😀 😀

(1)(11)

Anon

You are not in the BVI. If you were, you would know that you do pay tax there – at 8%. Get back to your document review in Manchester.

(14)(0)

Topkek

LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL BUSTED

Scots Lawyer

I find it astonishing that city lawyers would take this position considering the place offshore funds have in the mega deals you all get so hard for. Seems like you guys need people to do mind numbing work offshore so phat corporate deals can be struck.

(0)(5)

James

The simp who is spamming the like/dislike button needs to get a life.

Excessive liking/disliking to get the numbers up on comments that you disagree with is so pathetic

(26)(39)

Offshore phatman

Too many “I’m a big boy London solicitor” simps on LC these days…

(13)(19)

City solicitor

Jan 18 2021 4:43pm: get back to filing that witness statement we drafted, postbox boy.

(10)(2)

Offshore phatman

How’s that higher rate of 40% income tax working out for you son? 😂😂😂

(7)(12)

Charles

Tax is a price you pay for (amongst other things) professional credibility. And even paying the tax I do, I out-earn in take-home pay my offshore contemporaries. So I am better off in professional and financial terms.

Offshore phatman

Oh really: you earn more net net than me, on a USD$280k wedge all tax free? Keep the porkies coming matey. 😀 😀 😀 😀

Charles

Jan 19 2021 12:01pm: Yes. I earn GBP 375,000 per year, which brings me GBP 17,489 per month after tax. That exceeds the GBP equivalent of your monthly (tax free) income of USD 23,333, namely GBP 17,136, by GBP 353. And that is before I earn my bonus.

So as I say, I am better off in professional and financial terms. (A word of advice: don’t ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. It can make you look silly, as happened here. Back to being a postbox, there’s a good chap.)

In-house associate

If work life balance is what you want, in-house is definitely the way to go. Best decision I’ve ever made for my career. Sure, the pay isn’t as great as a private city firm (a little over 2/3 what I would be earning had I stayed at my old firm), but for only 35 hours a week of work, it’s so worth it.

(28)(0)

Andrew

Where do you find such in house roles?

(3)(1)

Anon

Not my experience at all – senior in-house roles are as demanding as law firms, maybe even worse as you cant get away from your clients!

(0)(6)

anonymous

In house is a walk in the park. You spend your days leafing through Legal500, working out to which law firm you will delegate the work.

(6)(0)

In house

Absolutely agree and would recommend the jump to anyone. The lack of billable hours means that you’re judged by how helpful you’ve been, your output and impact, rather than how many hours you can bill a client for.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

But you are a failure if you go in house. Sorry, but it’s true.

(0)(3)

Charles

Nobody with any talent ends up in somewhere like the Channel Islands or BVI, working as a puppet for lawyers in London and New York.

(17)(5)

Grand Cayman King

Yea, earning dat dere zero-tax dollar stacks while sipping ice-cold Cristal on Seven Mile Beach sure makes me feel bad about my apparent lack of talent. 😂😂😂

Stay ignorant simp, more wadd for us offshore boys.

(16)(25)

Anon

Jan 18 2021 5:09pm: something has got to compensate you for not being taken seriously.

(10)(2)

Simp boys everywhere

Cool story brah 😂😂😂

(1)(7)

Grand Cayman King

3 words for you gimp: tax hike incoming. 😂😂😂

(4)(11)

Charles

The tax you pay offshore is at the same level as your professional credibility. In your case, zero.

Grand Cayman King

Yikes, zero professional credibility, what will I possibly do?

Oh that’s right: I’ll log off at 5.00pm today, step outside of my beach front property and go for a leisurely swim in the 27° pure-turquoise sea. Then I might resume counting my tax-free dollar stacks, chomping on a phat Cohiba cigar. Thanks, sometimes I need reminding on how much I miss the City and HMRC. 😂😂😂

Charles

Thanks for acknowledging you have zero professional credibility. I hope your extra-curricular activities make up for that.

Anon

Why does everyone hate on those working at MC/US firms? Are they jealous?

I want to earn 300k as a senior associate at a US firm for 5/6 years. I will use this money to live life as a baller/travel wherever I want/get on the property ladder. I am prepared to work hard for this money as its a massive amount of money when you’re 28-35yrs old. I will also get on the property ladder and overpay my mortgage then once I am financially secure re-assess my goals in life.

I personally would rather this than slog away in a 9-5 in my twenties in the regions, on 35k-50k.

(33)(4)

Roflcopter

Yea but they won’t hire you son. Good luck at the CMS gimp house.

(7)(19)

Lawya

Go hard or go home. Law is boring. Rather get big money for a few years and leave with the experience and the skills than work for a decade on 50k in Manchester. At least you;re getting paid big bucks for something you dont like versus pittance for something you dont like.

(19)(2)

"Graveyard firm" employee

I’m sure your kids, wife, and other family and friends will care a lot about the “prestige” of your career when you’re never around. I’ll think about how “dead” my career is, when I log off at 6 every day to enjoy my actual life…. oh wait, no I won’t, because I have time for an actual life. (-:

(15)(24)

Prediction

Cue endless “dislikes” on any comment favouring a work/life balance over working your life away, from all of the City lawyers working their lives away

(8)(16)

Rather amused

Or dislikes to those professing their love for “phat stacks of tax free dolla while lounging on the beach in the Cayman Islands”.

The comments section underneath this article featuring their miniature arguments was among the most amusing I’ve read in a long time. Top bantz all round.

(1)(0)

desperateNQ

For those that say it’s basically all a waste of time and a career or ambition graveyard – what’s are decent alternatives upon qualification?

I’m all for “the lambo and the bantz”, but some respectable answers wouldn’t go amiss.

(0)(0)

Anon

City law is a very worthwhile career for those with the ability to see it through. Sure, you will have to work hard. But what prestigious, well paid job does not involve hard work? Only those who have failed, and headed to the regions or (worse still) offshore, gripe about the long hours which they eschewed for a less demanding professional life which better suited their abilities. It makes no sense to listen to those who have failed in the law, any more than it does to take advice from someone who has not succeeded in other jobs: they are inevitably bitter and insecure. So crack on with a career in the City. It is hugely rewarding, both financially and professionally. Good luck.

(14)(5)

Topkek

Ok boomer.

(3)(5)

desperateNQ

What if you come from the regions Anon, with a view to relocating on qualification? Am I doomed?

(0)(0)

Scots Lawyer

How does it feel to have such an inflated sense of self worth? Good I’ll bet. Why though, is it necessary for you to belittle others in order to set yourself and your choices apart from others who value things in life differently?

(5)(13)

Comments are closed.

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