The Legal Cheek View

Six years on from the 2017 three-way merger between CMS Cameron McKenna, Nabarro, and Olswang, the combined mega-firm CMS now has an established identify of its own. The biggest ever UK legal tie-up by lawyer numbers brings together the scale and quality of CMS Cameron McKenna, the real estate strength of Nabarro, and the media law cool of Olswang.

On the financial side, CMS has continued to post strong figures, with global revenues up 6.2% this year to €1.86 billion (£1.46 billion), while the UK figure grew a similar 5.7% to £578m. Profit per equity partner has taken a 6% dip to £977,963, after surpassing the £1 million mark for the first time in the firm’s history last year. Globally, the firm has seen a record number of partnership promotions with 62 lawyers making the grade across 26 different offices.

The firm also has one of the largest reaches across the UK, with nine regional offices in England and Scotland (and a new office in Leeds rumoured to be on its way). Trainees are split between them, although the majority are in London. Sheffield has particular significance to the firm, as it was Nabarro’s original base, while CMS’ Scottish offices come from its 2014 takeover of Dundas & Wilson, previously one of the biggest firms north of the border. It has further outposts in Bristol, Reading, Liverpool and Manchester, but took the strategic decision in early 2020 to shutter its second funds-focused London hub in Mayfair.

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There can be a fair bit of travel between all of these offices, which is where some of CMS’ best perks kick in. They include business class travel for certain journeys, mostly on flights to London City rather than harder to reach airports, and some five-star hotel stays with breakfasts and lunches. Other perks include dental and medical insurance, free counselling and physio sessions, a subsidised gym membership, away days abroad and “plenty of end of year / seasonal parties in nice locations such as Sky Garden”. There were, however, some grumbles that the regional offices aren’t treated to the same perks.

Training at CMS can be summed up as “great quality work, lots of client contact and a focus on your development”. There’s a frontloaded skills course followed by an induction week, three days of department training, and intermittent training throughout each seat given by dedicated professional skills leaders – and breath! One rookie reports: “The continued support and guidance has really helped my ability to move between different departments smoothly, understand the areas of law I’d like to work in and provide career guidance for the next steps to qualification”. However, the best stuff may only arrive “once you’ve proven that you’re capable” and some feel that CMS is a victim of its own success. “The team can be very busy and so there is not always time for training”, reveals one insider, and another reports that, due to the firm’s size “each team is like a different firm”, so there can be “inconsistencies”.

However, once you can demonstrate a strong grasp of the fundamentals, there’s a decent range of work without too many admin tasks. Drilling into the details, the breadth of work includes drafting documents, assisting on the signing process for large scale transactions and preparing documents for court hearings amongst other things. And that work is being done for some of the biggest brand name clients around. In banking & finance rookies could be working on deals with easyJet, which the firm recently advised on the prepayment of its $1.77 billion sustainability-linked loan facility, while those in pensions could be working with WHSmith on a £1 billion residual risks buy-in with Standard Life. Those in the technology, media and communications (TMT) team might even get the chance to work with names like Warner Bros, with CMS recently advising BT Group and Warner Bros. Discovery on a joint venture company to create a new sports media offering for the UK and Ireland.

Work is, of course, varied, and trainees won’t be tackling big ticket deals like these everyday. There is, as one rookie tells us, “less interesting work to be done” such as managing due diligence exercises, but overall insiders feel they’re “doing real work that goes towards supporting clients” at CMS. Another spy explains it like this: “Fee earners take the time to find out what you’re interested in, and try to help you get more of that work. You’re encouraged to reach out to people across your team to find work that you want to do. There will also be the standard trainee tasks, which you need to do in order to build the trust with your team. Overall the work I’ve done has been really interesting and varied. You just need to ask!”

Indeed, partners and other higher-ups have an excellent reputation for being “extremely friendly” and are frequently on hand to help out newbies and junior lawyers. Rookies are keen to praise the firm’s “non-hierarchical” culture: “Everyone has an open-door policy, so I can ask questions both online and, in the office, freely. This helps work production, efficiency levels and getting to know the team more easily”, says one grateful insider.

Trainees also get on well and are not too competitive with one another. “The cohort of trainees are hugely supportive. We are a diverse group of people, keen to learn and support each other through the journey. I always feel like there is someone I can go to, to ask questions or share my experience with”. The open plan office is also great for just shouting over with little questions. Overall, this is a place with a nice vibe, as reflected in the buoyant trainee social scene. There are “lots of drinks” and the popular ‘CMS Football World Cup’ (for boys and girls) is “on a different level — incredible fun and best thing about the firm”. “I genuinely believe CMS has the nicest, most normal and down to earth trainees in the City — none of the trainee psychopaths I’ve met in other firms,” one spy tells Legal Cheek.

Key planks of CMS’ new common identity are tech-savviness, anti-traditional lawyer stuffiness, and internationalism. Trainees are known to enjoy “a variety of legal tech to help improve the efficiency of transactional work and day-to-day admin”, although it “doesn’t always work”. A recent file site upgrade has helped with some of the problems and investment in tech like Hotdocs, Litera and Lupl is starting to pay dividends. Using legal tech is also part of trainees’ induction – though the Surface Pros are still somewhat of a bugbear!

Good tech has also helped with working from home. “The firm is very flexible and are brilliant at sending anything needed to help with setup (monitors, keyboards and even chairs if needed)” says one spy, whilst the “IT team is available at a moment’s notice”. Perhaps unsurprisingly then WFH is popular when your supervisor is on board, with the firm continuing to operate a flexible policy.

Generally, insiders are quite content with the work/life balance (a rarity for a big international firm!), only complaining about the unpredictability of when you may be called in to do your time. The general rule is “weekdays are workdays, weekends generally respected”, though this again can depend on your supervisor: “some are very respectful and others have no concept of work-life balance”.

One trainee informs us, “across my TC I’ve generally had a good work/life balance. Office hours on average are 9am-6:30/7pm. At busy times of the year, or if a team is particularly busy, this could widely fluctuate. I was doing 8-past midnight during my banking seat, but this was due to pressures in the market at the time. When work is busy, teams will expect you to spend longer working, but do try to give you time off where they can during/after the busy period. If anything ever feels like too much people are happy to talk to you and help you. There are mental health first aid representatives in all teams, so it’s good to know if things are getting too much you can speak to someone. I go to the gym everyday, and whilst I sometimes have to be flexible around work, I am encouraged to find the time to have time off. Junior’s will often go on a walk at lunch, or get a coffee with peers during the day. There are also lots of socials going on across the team/firm, which is nice!” For a starting salary of £50,000 and newly qualified pay of £105,000 that’s a pretty good deal.

The London office, located in a very fancy building above Cannon Street station in the City, is totally open plan, with “first class” facilities and a rather un-law firm-like appearance that seems to draw inspiration from airport first-class departure lounges and tech companies in equal measure. “It has taps that produce sparkling water. Need I say more?” states one hydrated insider. Cannons (the firm’s subsidised canteen), which offers free barista coffee until 10am is very much appreciated, but “losing free breakfast was a blow” says one hungry rookie. Beyond London, juniors’ reviews deem the new Sheffield office yet to be looking “great”, whilst the high standard of the London office is yet to reach CMS’s Bristol and Manchester outfits, the latter of which has just undergone a snazzy refurbishment.

With 80 offices across 44 countries, CMS is the very definition of global. This is reflected in the secondments: some of the destinations, such as Rio, Mexico and Hong Kong, are particularly exotic. CMS is big on client secondments too — nearly half of rookies surveyed have done one at companies including Marie Curie, Unilever, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, IBM, and BP.

On the environmental front, the firm is making efforts to encourage recycling in-office and use greener modes of transport. There are even bee-hives on the roof of the London office and staff can buy some of the honey that’s produced!

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Peer support
Partner approach-ability
Work/life balance
Legal tech

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023–24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


First year trainee salary £50,000
Second year trainee salary £55,000
Newly qualified salary £105,000
Profit per equity partner £977,963
PGDL grant £15,000
SQE grant £15,000

The figures above are for London. First year trainees in Bristol earn £43,000, rising to £45,000 in their second year, whilst NQ solicitors earn £68,000. First year trainees in Manchester and Sheffield receive £31,500, rising to £34,500 in their second year, and £60,000 upon qualification. First year trainees in Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) get £28,000, rising to £31,000 in their second year, and £60,000 upon qualification. The PGDL and SQE grant are £13,000 each outside of London.


Average start work time 08:55
Average finish time 19:04
Annual target hours Undisclosed
Annual leave 25 days

Average arrive and leave times are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023-24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


Chances of secondment abroad 4%
Chances of client secondment 43%

Secondment probabilities are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2023–24 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.

General Info

Training contracts 95
Latest trainee retention rate 88%
Offices 80
Countries 44
Minimum A-level requirement No minimum
Minimum degree requirement No minimum


UK female associates 63%
UK female partners 37%
UK BME associates 16%
UK BME partners 6%

CMS does not refer to employees as ‘BME’ but rather as ethnic minority employees which is what the BME statistics above refer to.

Universities Current Trainees Attended

The Firm In Its Own Words