Over the last decade Clyde & Co has transformed itself from a respected but relatively niche shipping and insurance law practice into a global full service megafirm. In the UK alone, Clydes now has ten offices, with another 40+ internationally. Indeed, over half of the firm’s revenue is now generated outside of the UK, with 22% from North America, 14% in the Asia-Pacific, 12% in the Middle East, 5% in Europe and 2% in Latin America.
Such growth can be turbulent, but Clydes is seen as having handled its enlargement — which began with the 2011 takeover of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert — pretty well, with a focus lately on US growth. The firm has recently announced that it will be opening new offices in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver in the US as well as an office in Vancouver, Canada through a merger with SHK Law Corporation which went live on 1 July 2021. This adds to the firm’s recent American additions of outposts in Chicago, Washington, Miami and Los Angeles. Elsewhere, Clydes opened an office in Munich in February 2021 and an associated office in Nairobi in October 2020.
It’s a bold and eye-catching strategy for a UK-headquartered firm to target the notoriously tough to crack American market, but Clydes’ financials indicate that so far it seems to be working. Global revenue is up for the 23rd consecutive year, hitting £639.6 million, a 2% rise on last year. Profit per equity partner, meanwhile rose 7.5% to £715,000.
For trainees, the obvious benefit of all of this is — pandemic permitting — international secondments, with San Francisco (the firm’s first US office, founded presciently in 2008 to take advantage of the ensuing tech boom) a reasonably common destination. Hong Kong, Dubai and Dar es Salaam are also popular. International secondments do tend to be “geared towards trainees with experience in more commercial seats”, an insider cautions — but plenty more are sent off to work with big name clients closer to home.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Clydes is now so big — with up to 35 training contract places annually, the firm is among the biggest trainers of solicitors in the country — that the differences between departments can be similarly huge. Work is known to, at best, get trainees involved in “some seriously complex and high value claims” and, at worst, leave them feeling like “a monkey on a typewriter”.
“In smaller departments, trainees get to take on associate-level work. In bigger departments, you get involved in huge cases, but correspondingly, only get to do menial or very administrative tasks. However, it is good exposure either way,” one trainee tells us. Another adds: “Throughout my training contract at the firm I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of “hands-on” experience, and have had responsibility for some of my own matters. The level of responsibility varies by department. However, on the whole, I feel that the training has been spot on in preparing for life as an NQ”.
Despite all the growth, the firm seems to have managed to retain its culture with a “very tightly knit” trainee cohort apparently “sticking together well”. Although one lauded their fellow rookies as “probably the best part about Clyde & Co”, beware, we are cautioned, of the odd “snake”. Overall we’re told that: “Our trainee intake is simply fabulous. There’s usually a bi-monthly social event going on for someone’s birthday, housewarming etc. and 90% of people are very honest about their seat choices and career aspirations so there’s generally very little game-playing.”
And the “exceptionally intelligent” partners seem to be pretty nice, though this is known to vary between departments. One insider explains: “The ones I have encountered are all very approachable, even at Senior Equity Partner-level. However, of course, there are some horror stories about others”. Another quips: “I’ve made jokes at the expense of every partner I’ve ever worked for and they’ve laughed (without being forced to laugh by the employment tribunal)”.
Like all firms with multiple UK offices, there are some mild tensions between the regions and the mothership. In Clydes’ case this is exacerbated somewhat by its glamorous blue glass London home in the St Botolph Building, which apparently boasts a “fantastic” canteen with a lovely view and standout brownies, porridge and chicken shawarma. One embittered non-London rookie confessed to being “envious of London’s canteen”. Plus there’s said to be an “an amazing pastry chef!”. Come the evening, it morphs into a bar where the first beer every other Thursday is free and a cleverly named Clyde & Cocktails social is held every month. Still, the Londoners don’t have it all, being split between the St Botolph and some rather less glamorous neighbouring office space.
The Manchester office is “not as impressive”, with no canteen. But at least all Clydes’ lawyers in the city are now under one roof, whereas until 2019 they were scattered around different sites.
The work/life balance seems to have deteriorated somewhat, with the hours apparently depending on the seat and your willingness to take on more cases. Consensus is that the pay could be better for the hours. Newly qualified (NQ) associates in London earn £68,000, following trainee and NQ pay cuts in August 2020. One trainee comments that they “expected better when the firm’s comparatively lower remuneration was supposedly justified by better hours. Starting a training contract at home meant it was easier for us to not have good work-life balance — we could easily work past 9pm and not realise”. But they did conclude on a more positive note, explaining that “in the teams I have worked, partners are accommodating if we give notice of any plans we do have”.
There can again be wide variations between teams and offices. While staying until 6pm “is classed as staying late” in the Manchester insurance team, this is certainly not the case in the London deal teams — and some feel that remuneration should rise to reflect this.
In Clydes’ Guildford office, meanwhile, “you can’t spin your chair without knocking down a stack of boxes from the 1980s”. Each year a handful of London trainees inevitably get posted to Guildford for a few months, and find themselves moaning about the commute — even though it’s usually tempered by finishing work earlier.
Lately, Clyde & Co has been investing in tech. Like many firms, there is a bit of a disconnect between the outward facing stuff — Clydes has established “an innovative consultancy service which provides clients with fully integrated legal and technical advice and services to help them realise the growing potential of smart contracts” — and the internal IT. “At trainee level, we don’t see any legal tech in action. I have heard about Clyde Code and smart contracts, but don’t think they are things that the regular associate would be using or even vaguely informed about.,” one rookie confides. While another quips “do we even use legal tech?”.
However, there has reportedly been a big improvement in recent times. “Prior to upgrading to Windows 10 laptops I’d say the firm’s tech was pretty poor. However, absolutely zero complaints about the new tech! Totally fit for purpose and love the flexibility of working afforded in having firm laptops and the ability to hot desk,” comments one.