Clifford Chance retains 43 of 55 qualifying trainees

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By Emily Hinkley on



Clifford Chance’s London office

Clifford Chance has become the third Magic Circle firm to release its autumn retention result, with 43 of its 55 qualifying trainees staying put.

This hands the firm, which recruits around 110 trainees each year, the highest intake of any City outfit, a score of 78%.

As with previous scores, the firm did not provide details of the practice areas or offices the trainees will qualify into. However, we do know that the firm received 52 applications (95%) for associate positions and made 43 offers, all of which were accepted.

The 2023 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The Legal Cheek 2023 Firms Most List shows those sticking around will see their salaries move from a trainee rate of £55,000 to an NQ base salary of £125,000.

So far two other MC firms have posted 2023 autumn scores, Allen & Overy retained 37 of its 40 qualifiers (94%) and Freshfields kept 36 of 40 NQs (90%).

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Purge II



By the firm yes, given 95% applied.

Purge Spectator

And why do you think that is the case?


There’s a good answer in the comments in the CMS retention article, it seems like it’s a mixture of firms being strict with who they decide to keep and lack of available jobs because firms are being careful.


Why does CC notoriously see lower retention scores than other MC firms? Is it that US firms more heavily recruit from CC trainees or the firm is so unpleasant to work at?

Trained at CC, living it up elsewhere

Qualified, and left, a couple of rounds ago but this was something that baffled me for some time. Although there is no single explanation, I believe there are three main factors (apart from the pay disparity, but that applies to all MC firms).

1) The training is genuinely very good, particularly in the finance seats. If I were at a US firm looking to hire good associates, I would also look to CC trainees.

2) A significant number of senior CC staff already at US firms. I know Weil, Simpson Thatcher, Milbank and others are stuffed with ex-CC staff. It is a small number of US firms that seem to disproportionately hire from CC. Many US firms expanded in London in the 2000s, when CC was the world’s largest firm, so it makes sense that the firm’s footprint, and network, is wide.

3) A near-blind recruiting process and some questionable hiring decisions. From what I know of other firms, everyone is generally of a similar profile (strong a level + uni grades + some legal experience).

The main differences in the way CC hires is:
– CV blind before interviewing
– No grade requirements
– Little testing (even when I applied there didn’t seem much testing at all, and HR seem very anti-standardised testing)
– No vacation scheme
– HR, not Lawyers, making too many hiring decisions – especially given no vac scheme

None of this is to say that CC’s hiring process is necessarily wrong. However HR (despite being much bigger at CC than at other firms) seems to ask remarkably little of its candidates and therefore knows very little about them. No process is perfect, but CC’s is particularly brief – meaning if you nail a test and an interview, then boom you have a two-year job. I’m therefore not surprised that CC loses its lawyers, that it has nearly blindly recruited, in greater numbers than does a firm whose lawyers have been through a CV check, partner interview, written test, vac scheme, vac scheme assessment and final interview.

As with most things CC, it is a firm full of exceptional lawyers, just with an intoxicating level of DEI koolaid (if you were wondering why vac schemes were abolished, it was because they were “inaccessible” to those who were not offered a place on the schemes).


Thank you, Trained at CC, living it up elsewhere! It’s a really helpful explanation!


I wouldn’t really agree with the process being completely anonymous and too brief. In fact, HR stills asks you for a detailed breakdown of your work experiences and partners / senior associates do ask you about them at interview. That’s without considering Watson Glaser, written case study, and commercial interview.

That said, I would agree with the process being very HR rather than partner led. The only chance during CC recruitment for you to show who you are as a person is the competency / motivational interview, which partners, who are ultimately in charge of hiring NQs, do not attend (only one senior associate).

By contrast, SM has a recruitment process which is completely partner led – they screen your CV, read your cover letter, and two of them keep for you for a lengthy interview (1.5 hrs on average). They are already judging whether you’d be a good fit in the long-term, hence why I reckon retention is so high.

Obviously this is only part of the picture but recruitment processes definitely have an influence.

CC Insider

Combination of higher intake of trainees, tend to offer less places, and US firm poaching. Having NQs of the right quality is more important than retention scores. For those who don’t apply for NQ jobs, it’s usually because some elite US firms start trying to poach CC trainees from their very first seat (which is mad when you think about it).

Another insider

Also people’s first choices being teams that take a relatively small number of NQs vs the number of trainees that sit there (e.g. litigation) , people get rejected and then leave.


Who tf knows


From 1st seat, you’re basically no better than a paralegal at that stage


Every trainee I’ve met from CC was an absolute weirdo, so it doesn’t surprise me that many don’t make the cut.

Some real interesting views about about the way they recruit. They’ve definitely tried their best to be a bit different, but, it doesn’t seem like it’s paying off.


As a former paralegal there, there was deffo some oddballs

Procrastinating my way to 3pqe

Having worked across from them, there are some weird juniors at CC.

Off-puttingly keen and socially inept The sort to add you on Linkedin after being copied into the same email chain as you. Just the type recruiters love and lawyers hate.

Magic Circle Lawyer IRL

Not sure how good the comments above actually are if they think the word “intoxicating” is a pejorative – you might mean “suffocating” ??

CC has the recruitment process it does because its culture is much less hierarchical / more liberal / modern / commercial than some other firms, and that works for it. SM is obviously the opposite end of that scale, and it’s more “traditional” recruitment process (ie would have been the same in the 1950s) is a both a product of and reason for that.

Retention rates are probably closely aligned to business demand in key practice areas. As CC still has a bias towards finance clients, and given financial deal making is down in the current economic environment, it’s not surprising retention rates would decrease. SM is much more corporate heavy, which would insulate it from some of those macroeconomic trends to an extent.

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