If you’ve searched for a job, it’s likely that you would have consulted Glassdoor. In case you haven’t, Glassdoor allows current and former employees to post anonymous reviews of a workplace’s culture, management style and even typical rates of pay.
Two thirds of users trust Glassdoor as a website to research companies, right after former employees and family. Glassdoor claims to save jobseekers the hassle of finding and speaking to current and former employees about working conditions within the firm.
But like all jobseeking tools, there are limitations. Here are five reasons why you should proceed with caution when viewing law firm reviews on Glassdoor.
1. Online reviews are always at the extremes.
Customers who have a bad experience are more likely to share negative feedback online compared with those who had a positive one. It’s a similar phenomenon with employees, especially those who have an axe to grind against former bosses or colleagues.
At the same time, positive reviews may not always be reliable either. Current employees or HR may be incentivised to post positive comments, regardless of the reality of life within the firm.
You may get the odd average review, but that is the exception, not the rule.
In addition, only a small percentage of former and current employees post reviews about their law firm.
For example, King and Wood Mallesons employs hundreds of lawyers in Australia but at the time of writing there were only 60 employee reviews on Glassdoor. If you segment those reviews according to office location and job title, the number of employee reviews relevant to your job search becomes very small.
The vast majority of people who work (or who have worked) at the firm are not likely to have written about it. Consequently, you should not assume the reviews you are reading are necessarily representative.
2. Most reviews show a narrow view of the whole firm
Most Glassdoor reviews treat law firms as a single entity. However, large law firms operate in different locations, with different divisions and practice groups in each area (and often different teams within those practice groups). Someone’s experience in one part of the firm may be completely different to another person’s elsewhere.
Different parts of the firm are likely to have their own unique workflow and management habits. Furthermore, employee experiences may differ based on their job title, such as whether they are a junior lawyer, senior associate, partner or legal secretary.
But not all anonymous reviews will include those details, possibly because they could identify the person behind the review. For potential jobseekers, it may be hard to pinpoint whether the issues (positive or negative) are company-wide issues, or confined to one particular area of the practice.
3. Reviews aren’t always current
Anything you read on Glassdoor is about something someone has experienced in the past.
In some cases, the reviews might be talking about something that happened months (or even years) ago. Things may well have changed in the meantime.
Where someone has had a bad experience, it may not have been an isolated one. The more people who have experienced the same (negative) thing, the more likely it is that the firm will have done something to address and improve the situation.
Conversely, just because someone has posted a positive review, this does not mean that firm (or team) remains a great place to work. Even a few changes in key personnel can make a huge difference to the culture of any team.
Although the reviews can be a good source for potential red flags, just be wary because the information may not be up to date and therefore may have limited relevance or value.
4. Reviews may reflect poor work fit
Negative online reviews may reflect a poor fit with the law firm, rather than an inherent problem with working conditions. Different people thrive in different work environments. One person’s nirvana might be another person’s nightmare. There is no single firm that will be the best place to work for everyone.
It’s important to reflect on the work environments that you can thrive in and compare them to the reality described in Glassdoor reviews. Don’t write off a law firm straight away based on described working conditions and make your own inquiries to verify the reviews.
5. Small law firms are underrepresented on Glassdoor
Glassdoor profiles of law firms are heavily skewed towards the top-tier and mid-tier firms. This is simply because they employ more people, and therefore more people tend to write about them.
Most small law firms don’t have a profile on Glassdoor. Even if they do, it may be rare that anyone has posted a review. This is partly due to there being fewer people who could write about them, and partly due to the lack of real anonymity. Whereas big firms have no real way of knowing who is reviewing them, a small firm would usually be able to identify the author with relative ease.
The absence of reviews on small firms is neither good nor bad – it’s just something to be aware of, particularly if your mindset is skewed towards considering large firms only.
Glassdoor can be a useful jobseeking website for lawyers searching for their next law firm. But it shouldn’t be a substitute for face-to-face or phone conversations with people who have direct, current experience working in the team you are interested in.
The reviews could be a useful starting point for questions and investigations. But they probably shouldn’t be used for much more than that.
Need more jobseeking tips? We cover some useful advice here.