The magic circle covenant of good money, exquisite training and elaborate perks in a glamorous setting, in return for high commitment and sometimes long and gruelling hours, is embodied in Clifford Chance.
Let’s start with the training. One CC rookie describes it like this: “Training in every seat has been exceptional. From a week’s induction course for all trainees doing Finance or Capital Markets seats, to weekly presentations on different work products, to a hands-on private acquisition case study (with a negotiation exercise at the end), every department has without exception provided a fantastic base of knowledge from which to complete day-to-day work.”
Plenty of others rave about the “brilliant support and a perfect balance between guidance and independence”. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be doing thrilling work. One of CC’s millennials reports: “This really fluctuated but to be honest, looking back I probably spent nearly a year of my life doing document review, and probably 3-4 months doing bundles, and another 3-4 months doing originals, and maybe 6 months putting in other peoples’ amends. It would have been nice to have had my opinion asked a tiny bit more often.”
However, others suggest that “if you are talented and ambitious, complex and interesting work will come your way” and note that “even the mundane work is usually part of something fairly complex”.
Happily, some recent investment in technology by the firm is meaning less drudge work. “Recently the firm has introduced some new pieces of software that are actually really useful when drafting documents, although there is probably still room for improvement,” one trainee tells us. Another states: “Investment in contract companion means gone are the days of proofing 300 page facilities.”
Moving onto perks — let’s face it, when it comes to Clifford Chance what everything wants to know about is the swimming pool. Yes, the magic circle giant’s London headquarters has its own bathing facilities where trainees can famously wash away their troubles while gazing into the Canary Wharf night. They sometimes need it. The firm is among the poorer performers for work/life balance, with the hours notoriously long during busy spells. One insider summarises it like this:
“Pretty miserable during the work week. I go home just to sleep, I am in the office for every other minute of the day. That being said, I have only had to work 2 weekends over the past 4 months, which has been nice.”
However, another adds that hours are “hugely dependent on the department you are in. If you’re in tax, chances are you’ll have a great life. If you’re in any of the transactional departments, you’ll have to do a bit more juggling/sacrificing. However, on the whole people are considerate of your plans and happy to accommodate as long as you’re not at a crunch point on a deal.”
The powers that be at CC work hard to mitigate the grind with treats beyond office swimming. These include one of Legal Cheek’s favourite freebies: steak at your desk if you are working late. For veggies there are deluxe cheeseboards and fruit platters.
But it’s not all steaks and no play, with drinks every Thursday night and free trainee drinks every last Thursday of the month. One insider reports that these CC institutions have begun to blur: “I haven’t yet had a Thursday without at least a few drinks (and “trainees don’t pay for drinks” is the motto).” Could this be related to the firm’s rising profit per equity partner, which jumped by 12% to £1.375 million last year and has recently risen again to reach £1.6 million?
Happily, the fish and chips served in the in-house canteen on Friday are apparently “the best hangover cure in the world!” When deals are flowing, we recommend combining it with a double espresso from the firm’s in-house Starbucks. However, a recent canteen refurb has drawn criticism, with a host of new dishes provoking unease. “The Louisiana creole is to be avoided,” warns one regular diner. The food is also apparently “terrible for vegans”.
For those looking to escape CC’s lavish HQ, there are plenty of international secondment opportunities. According to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18, 68% of rookies have done one. For those who prefer to stay on these shores, around a quarter of trainees do a client secondment. There is a wide variety of destinations, including top clients like Goldman Sachs and Barclays, but also charities such as the Mary Ward Legal Centre and The Howard League. Some lucky kids even get to do two secondments, we understand.
Getting one of these is not as cut throat as you may imagine, with the firm telling us that the vast majority of trainees who request a secondment are successful. This may account for the largely mellow vibes among CC’s trainees. “My peers are great (and it’s not Stockholm syndrome talking),” insists one. “Nobody here believes success’s ladder is climbed on the bodies’ of others,” claims another via an unusual metaphor.
The partners are not too bad either, with CC narrowly missing out on an A in this category. “Some definitely took the ‘casual, flat hierarchy’ approach and are very friendly and helpful,” explains another insider, “Others, as you can imagine, loved the hierarchy and took the ‘I was kicked when I was a trainee therefore I will kick you and you will accept me as your superior’ approach.”