Clifford Chance’s spring retention score slumps to 67%

Magic circle colossus keeps just 31 trainees

lead

The London office of Clifford Chance has unveiled a disappointing 2017 spring retention result of 67%.

The firm, which is a member of an elite group of outfits known as the magic circle, received 43 applications for associate positions from a spring qualifying cohort of 46. Clifford Chance confirmed it made just 33 offers, with 31 accepting. This equates to a final retention score of 67%.

Today’s less than magic result marks a notable drop on the firm’s spring 2016 performance. On that occasion Clifford Chance — which offers around 80 City-based training contracts annually — notched up an 80% result, retaining 43 of its 54 trainees.

According to Legal Cheek’s Most List, the fresh-faced associates — who now have billing targets of 1,800 hours each year to aim for — will pocket a very respectable £85,000 a year.

Despite today’s disappointing outcome, Clifford Chance performed well in Legal Cheek’s 2016 Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. The firm achieved A* for its office (it must be the swimming pool that swung it) and international secondment opportunities. It also racked up As for training, quality of work, peer support, partner approachability and its canteen.

Back in December, fellow magic circler Slaughter and May kicked off another exciting spring retention season. Having upped base salaries to £78,000, as well as throwing a host of additional sweeteners at its lawyers, the firm revealed a perfect 100% retention result, keeping hold of all 25 of its newly qualified (NQ) lawyers.

And late last month the London office of US titan White & Case confirmed a retention figure of 88%, with 15 of its 17 newbies — who will trouser a cool £90,000 a year — opting to stick around post-qualification.

Other firms to reveal their 2017 spring scores include Mayer Brown and Trowers & Hamlins, which chalked up 100% and 93% respectively.

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54 Comments

Anonymous

Why is this figure so low when Slaughters and Freshfields posted such strong figures? Any insight would be appreciated

(13)(0)
Anonymous

Banking clients moving to Europe for a banking firm = ah mannn

(6)(2)
Anonymous

Slaughters hired people they wanted in the first place. CC hired some they wanted, some they didn’t *really* want but who would help the firm to appear committed to diversity.

When the TC is over and things get serious, they get rid.

Questionable strategy as money is wasted on training, plus reputation is hurt by poor retention stats.

Also, actively pursuing such a strategy implies a lack of confidence in finding genuinely able ‘diverse’ candidates, which is patronising, since they clearly do exist.

(44)(7)
Strong Maths

It’s not as challenging as you might think to be an NQ. You don’t need an Oxbridge first to do this work. In fact, hiring people with stellar academics to do often menial work for long hours is the questionable strategy. If the business needs NQs, it’ll recruit from its intake, if it doesn’t, it won’t. It really is that simple. It isn’t because they made diversity hires who all turned out to be crap.

(28)(0)
OP

Why would having an Oxbridge first be relevant when qualifying? It’s on supervisor feedback not degree result surely

(12)(1)
Anonymous

StrongMaths, I agree that the work is not rocket science. However, being a shit trainee is absolutely a reason for not being offered an NQ position. You appear (rather hastily) to dismiss this altogether.

(0)(3)
litigator

There are few trainees at MC firms with Oxbridge firsts, yes they exist but much, much more common at the commercial bar.

(10)(6)
Anonymous

Sorry but this is not true – slaughter and may have a current trainee intake with several Oxford BCLs, an Oxford DPhil, a Yale graduate, a Harvard LLM etc…and it’s a pretty average intake!

(8)(5)
litigation

Exactly. For example, Freshfields current intake has a former doctor, 2 BCLrs and a couple of people with double firsts. Out of 40 trainees, that’s uncommon. At the commercial bar everyone has that.

(9)(3)
Anonymous

No, I disagree, it’s common in slaughters at least. I would say circa 80 – 85% of most intakes went to Oxbridge.

(7)(5)
litigation

No it’s not, circa 50/60% max, I would agree Oxbridge proportion at S&M & Freshies is very high. The amount of Oxbridge firsts, bclrs isn’t huge, they mainly go to the bar, although of course some may go to mc firms.

From someone senior at one of those two firms, I assure you (1) this is not the commercial bar you don’t need to be a genius to succeed at an MC firm; (2) you will find far more people with exceptional backgrounds – such as an Oxbridge first – at the commercial bar.

(8)(4)
Anonymous

At the commercial bar the proportion of Oxbridge firsts is pretty low. I’m not sure where you’re getting your figures from.

At the very top end of the bar there are some geniuses, but otherwise there is nothing particularly difficult about entering the commercial bar.

(0)(2)
Anonymous

Just not true. Look at profiles of the juniors at big commercial sets. Pretty much exclusively oxbridge firsts…

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Linklaters here – somewhat comparable. Lots of people with outstanding degrees from the top universities, including BCL and Ivy League.

(3)(6)
Anonymous

Links is about 50% Oxbridge undergrad and another 20% or so with an Oxbridge postgraduate degree. Quite a few Ivies knocking about too.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

So you don’t deny that CC makes diversity hires who may not be any good. You are simply saying that it’s of no consequence because the work is easy, and if the business needed NQs they would just make offers to the crappy people anyway.

LOL. Clifford Chance, ladies and gents….

(2)(1)
Anonymous

This is spot on re CC

Basically the over zealous CC HR dept have hijacked the process

(2)(1)
Anonymous

This is nonsense. CC is one of the few firms where the managing partner or heads of division conduct all training contract interviews. Your interviewer will almost invariably be white and male at CC. By contrast, Links and Slaughters use devoted graduate recruitment Partners who are female to conduct almost all of their interviews for the specific aim of hiring more diversely.

(2)(0)
Strong Maths

43 out of 46 applied. 33 were made offers. They didn’t offer 23.2% of the cohort which applied to stay. Why didn’t they offer? Business reasons. Many MC firms are reducing their cohorts anyway. It’s possible many didn’t make the grade, but it’s probably more to do with the financials and falling demand for incoming grunts.

Slaughter and May and Freshfields are different businesses which I believe may have different intake sizes. There is no “magic circle” insofar as these firms are in no way associated with one another other than a historic The Lawyer article in the 90s pertaining to law firm size. And just because a firm posts strong numbers in the spring, it doesn’t mean the winter’s numbers, or those in the following year will be quite as strong. Indeed high retention rates at some firms can predict lower rates in the next cohort.

(6)(2)
OP

Yes but a striking difference nonetheless? Fully aware that Slaughters and Freshfields are in a different league, but CC are still big, as is the difference.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

They didn’t cut trainee numbers in the same way Freshfields and Slaughters did 4-5 years ago

(2)(0)
Lord McPalumboSandwich

CC likes to give off an image of being one of the friendliest firms known to mankind, but in reality it makes it’s trainees work to death, with one of the highest targets for billable hours.

That swimming pool is actually used to drown underperforming rookies.

(41)(2)
Brown Circle firm trainee

Oh? I would’ve sworn it was labelled the toilet .

Oops.

(8)(0)
Anonymous

So basically with the move to smaller cohorts they’ve chosen to stop taking tons of trainees and beasting them and not giving them NQ positions (as has happened here) and instead taking fewer trainees for the retention figures

(5)(0)
Anonymous

At least those who left get to be solicitors and have the CC name on their CVs…

(3)(1)
Anonymous

As if that matters, if your next stop is Eversheds or DLA Piper.

(6)(8)
Anonymous

Well, somebody has to make partner at Eversheds. Your are better off coming from CC than from Mickey Mouse LLP.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

And there’s nothing wrong with being a partner at a mid tier law firm. People do them all down, but firms like Sheds or Pinsents aren’t like Irwin Mitchell or something. They’re still taking in like 30 times the national average salary.

(8)(1)
Anonymous

I agree with you. My point is that people erroneously assume that you’re sorted ‘for life’ if you train at a magic circle firm. However, if you’re not kept on, as an associate, you’re not going to be able to trade off your magic circle training for very long.

(2)(1)
MC (donalds) trainee

This was entirely predictable. Law firms have to try to forecast their NQ requirements up to four years in advance. CC have ploughed along with 110 trainees per year for quite a while; they have since realised that they won’t need as many in the future as they have in the past, so have reduced their intake by 80. But the reason for them making this adjustment is probably closer than the three/four years that making the adjustment allows for, so they also have to make the adjustment to the number of offers being made for NQ spots as well. It’s just business.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Bit concerned being at Links – no real trainee reduction so far. Still over 100. Hoping this doesn’t affect us too much

(4)(0)
Anonymous

CC has an arguably superior client roster and makes just as much profit.

“Far better” by what metric? Number of trainees from Oxford? Give a shit.

(8)(7)
Anonymous

Just out of curiosity, why is CC perceived to be the least prestigious MC firm and to have the least stringent hiring policies of the MC?

(2)(2)
Anonymous

Partly snobbery. Freshfields was founded in the 18th century, Links and Slaughters in the 19th. CC & A&O are both under 100 years old, so they lack that image of old-school, vintage legal brilliance. CC in particular is the product of a 1980s merger, and is kind of seen as a bit nouveau riche. The profile of the firm is not as blue-blooded as Slaughters/Freshies/Links. On the flip side, CC is seen as more modern, less stuffy, more progressive in outlook – which are attractive qualities for some people.

The hiring policy at CC is also less rigid – “CV blind” interviews, and a big focus on diversity initiatives as alluded to above. CC is seen as being more open-minded in its approach, and giving more opportunities to people with chequered backgrounds/dodgy grades, if they perform well at interview. This is in stark contrast to a firm like Slaughters which by and large, will not look twice at candidates without stellar grades from an elite uni.

Bottom line is, all MC firms are very prestigious. They all make a ton of cash because the big clients (banks, governments, financial institutions) still see them as the gold standard, and the go-to-option for premium service. Personally, I don’t consider that there’s a clear advantage in working for one MC firm over another; they are more similar than different.

(18)(1)
Anonymous

Personally, I don’t consider that there’s a clear advantage in working for one MC firm over another; they are more similar than different.

Agree with everything but this point. A&O/CC have far more in common with NRF/HSF than they do with Slaughters.

(1)(8)
Anonymous

Also, even if you don’t think that those intangible perceptions of firms (even within the MC) matter – and, indeed, they shouldn’t – surely when it comes to exit routes/lateral hires, which DO matter, they will play a role?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Not really. When a firm is making a lateral hire, the key consideration is experience. Firms will advertise for a person of a particular number of years PQE, and will be interested as to the particular matters the prospective employee has worked on. The idea is to bring somebody in with a strong background in the type of work you expect to give them.

MC trained lawyers all gain good experience, because all MC firms have demanding clients, and work on big/complex transactions and cases. They are also all attuned to working long hours in a high pressure environment. This is all any firm cares about for the purposes of lateral hire.

(0)(0)
I Smell Bias

Patently false. If by “in common” you mean size, international presence, and revenue then yes, A&O and CC have more in common with NRF and HSF than SM.

But if you’re referring to reputation, then A&O and CC are undeniably equal to SM (as evidenced by both their client bases and industry surveys) and if you’re referring to the full service offering then A&O and CC far exceed SM.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

But in terms of profit margin and RPL, CC lags behind the other magic circle firms. Could this be due to the fact they bring in less profitable, prestigious deals?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Not really, it is more to do with not being as lean (ruthless) when it comes to getting rid of partners. CC is very top heavy and as a result partners are kept on eating up the profits for longer than they should.

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Yes, Slaughters is tiny by comparison and associates are paid less. Yes, that’s even if you take into account any bonus. No, it won’t be changing any time soon.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

This is ridiculous. As someone who works at another MC firm, Links is an irrelevance.

(1)(4)
I Smell Bias

Many of the Slaughters evangelists here sound like employees and I suspect those making comments on the hierarchy within the MC are somewhat jaded.

As an Oxbridge grad, with a first, who received multiple MC offers and who now works at one, I can’t resist calling BS on most of this idle chat.

Nobody gives a damn about how old firms are. Things like the likelihood of international secondments, TC structure, Legal 500 practice area rankings, and culture are much more important and on these measures Slaughters is the outlier: a small, UK-centric, corporate shop with an unshakeable reputation as culturally backward. Despite having the simplest application process most of my cohort didn’t even apply and the majority of those that I know with offers from Slaughters rejected them for US firms (more money) or other MC firms (more variety).

In fact, the attitude among the MC lawyers I know is increasingly that Slaughters isn’t part of the group and is better considered an established boutique.

As for the four MC giants, the view from the inside is that there is absolute equivalence; no snobbery, just mutual respect. I, alongside my mates at the other MCs, all agree that we ultimately chose our firms for arbitrary and subjective reasons, not any substantive difference in quality.

(29)(1)
Anonymous

It entirely depends on your practice area… If you want to be a banking lawyer, A&O and CC are clearly ahead of Links and Freshfields, with the position reversed for corporate. Freshfields probably ahead for disputes, CC for real estate.

And there’s definitely some snobbery… as there is between all firms!

(2)(1)
Anonymous

Really? It’s hard to say that Links’s finance practice is not at least on par with A&O and CC and it is definitely far ahead of FF’s practice.

(3)(4)

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