Toxic law firms: Are poisonous partners ruining it for everyone?

From not listening to feedback all the way up to workplace bullying, nobody wants to work in a toxic culture.

However, for all too many lawyers, it is an everyday reality. It’s been reported that 41% of law firm partners have seen bullying at work from other partners or law firm owners. This can lead to daily misery for those subject to this, not to mention that employees are ten times more likely to leave if their workplace has such a culture.

But how does it manifest, and how can lawyers recognise if their firm is toxic? Some warning signs to look out for include the following:

  • A high turnover of staff is a major red flag when it comes to a toxic workplace. If talented teams don’t want to stay for long, that speaks volumes about the culture.
  • Feedback is ignored, leading to limited or no improvements. Leaders who refuse to respond to feedback from others signify something harmful.
  • A lack of work-life balance and unrealistic expectations are signs of a firm that doesn’t truly care about its employees.
  • Micromanagement signals distrust in employees and often stifles their ability to achieve their full potential. A toxic leader does not have confidence in those around them.

In law firms, this toxicity tends to come primarily from the top, demonstrated by the statistics that almost half of partners have witnessed it from others. This can leave lawyers with very little hope that things will improve: if the partners aren’t going to enforce change, who will?

If this all sounds familiar, your workplace is likely toxic. You may not even have realised this is the case because it is all too common. Indeed, it’s easy to get sucked into believing that all law firms are this way. You may think that things won’t get better. So, you accept the toxicity and do the best with what you have. But, like any bad relationship, you must accept that things won’t change. You should take steps to get out and start healing in a far more positive and supportive environment.

Do firms with positive cultures even exist?

At Setfords, one of our core values is building a welcoming, inclusive, and flexible culture that gives our consultants ultimate freedom. Primarily, they are their own boss, so they have absolute control over how they work. That means setting their own hours, targets, location, and even picking their clients. The result is that our lawyers have more time for self-care, no matter what this looks like to them. It could be taking a walk in the middle of the day, spending more time with family, or jetting off to exotic locations: whatever our lawyers enjoy, the Setfords model means they have more time for it.

Consultant Chartered Legal Executive Maria Schultz says: “I knew I needed to change my career path and try something new when I was reviewing how much I had billed over the last year and how much I was missing out on. I wanted to earn more, but, most importantly, I wanted to spend more time with my family. I needed a more flexible arrangement that would allow me to manage my own time and find work on my own terms. Unlike in a traditional firm, at Setfords nobody is looking over your shoulder – targets are your own, and you don’t feel like you are competing with anyone. I love that it’s all up to me – what I do, when I work, I’m the master of my own destiny.”

Financial freedom

We also encourage our lawyers to achieve financially with our unique fee-split structure. Lawyers at many traditional firms feel that they aren’t being paid fairly for their hard work and dedication. Instead, they’re lining the pockets of the partners who benefit from all of that hard work.

At Setfords, our fee-share structure is far fairer, with lawyers taking home up to 80% of their billings. In return, they get all of the support they need for no extra cost. That’s everything from admin and secretarial support, to business development, marketing, and access to our office and workspaces.

Real Estate solicitor Sarah Edwards says: “Since joining Setfords, I have earned my highest income since qualifying as a solicitor! The Setfords fee structure allows me to reach an income that I would not usually achieve at a traditional firm. I am over the moon that I can do this whilst working remotely and flexibly.”

A modern culture

However, we recognise that this truly matters only if the culture is right. We instil a positive culture across our firm, with a significant focus on wellbeing. Our dedicated Lawyer Wellbeing department is always on hand to organise social and work-related events, host informative webinars, and simply be a friendly face or voice at the end of the phone.

Furthermore, we promote an inclusive network amongst our consultants themselves. Many of our lawyers find that they can quickly build up a network of like-minded others to collaborate with and ask questions.

Consultant Employment Law solicitor Richard Hiron says: “I’m a keen networker who likes to collaborate. I have already met some fantastic and like-minded consultant solicitors here, so building up my network and passing work their way has been a real pleasure.”

Lawyers: you won’t regret quitting a toxic job. Join us at Setfords, and see that law firm culture doesn’t have to be toxic. We are always looking to welcome UK-qualified lawyers with 5+ years PQE. If you think we could be a good fit, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today by filling out the form below, calling us on 0330 058 4011 or emailing info@setfords.co.uk


Is consultancy for me?

If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

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        Currently, we can only work with lawyers qualified under one of these regulatory bodies