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, including a substantial presence in the US, Asia and the Middle East.
Such growth can be turbulent, but Clydes is seen as having handled its enlargement — which included the 2011 takeover of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert — pretty well, with a focus lately on US growth where the firm has opened offices in Chicago, Washington, Miami and Los Angeles.
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. Revenue is again up this year, hitting £627 million, a 3% rise on last year, in what is the firm’s 22nd consecutive year of growth. Profit per equity partner, meanwhile, is understood to be around £665,000.
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 — the differences between departments can be similarly huge. “Responsibility in departments varies with notably low responsibility in larger litigation departments. In the departments with high responsibility there is significant opportunity to learn and develop skills,” one trainee tells us.
Another adds: “Work is overall excellent. Most departments give you loads of opportunity to work on interesting cases with high levels of responsibility. Even the bigger departments with more ‘trainee’-style work have a good variety. Obviously the departments with the higher-value cases are going to have some more ‘trainee’-style work, but Clydes has some departments with higher volume that give you essentially an associate-level experience, and I don’t think most City firms can say that.”
Despite all the growth the firm seems to have managed to retain its culture, with a largely “tightly knit” trainee cohort apparently “sticking together well”. Beware, though, 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, scoring well for approachability in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21. One insider explains: “Some are terrifying, but the vast majority are friendly, appreciative, approachable and happy to talk to you.” 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. 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 last year they were scattered around different sites. Plus the work/life balance is good — Clydes is a strong scorer in this area across the firm, with most lawyers clocking off around 7pm outside very busy periods. “The vast majority of times I can make and keep to evening plans. I have, however, been made to work on a Saturday at very last minute,” one trainee tells us. However, 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 about 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. “The IT department is understaffed and under-resourced, I don’t think there’s been a single video-teleconference that has gone smoothly,” one rookie confides. While another jokes that “any day where I can competently send an email without my PC catching on fire is a good day”.
A recent improvement is that second desktop screens are now standard issue and there are plans to dole out laptops, although a jaded junior reports that “this move has been stuck in the planning stage for years now”. For now, “loan laptops are relics from the 80s (I exaggerate) and getting a permanent laptop instead of a desktop computer is like trying to get a straight answer out of Boris Johnson.” The fact that, as one Clydesian complains, “the tech infrastructure hasn’t been updated since the Spanish Flu pandemic” can make life especially difficult for those trying to work from home recently. But others say that, all things considered, the great WFH transition has gone “surprisingly well”.