Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
The Legal Cheek View
This global firm is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Trainees can expect to be thrown in at the deep end and will be expected to work long hours (long hours at firms like Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton mean very long hours. Think 9:30am-9:30pm, although you could be out the door by 7pm on quiet days). For the driven and the determined, however, the rewards are many. Trainees have flexibility in their areas of work, earn a top-notch salary (trainees start on £57,500 rising to £140,000 on qualification) and can choose to work overseas if they so desire.
American in origin, Cleary has 16 offices in Europe, the USA, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America with the firm opening its latest gaff in Silicon Valley in 2021. Join this firm and stick a pin in a globe. Almost all of its work involves multiple jurisdictions, and the world really is a Cleary lawyer’s oyster. Trainees have a decent chance of securing an international secondment with destinations including Hong Kong, Cologne, Frankfurt, Brussels, Abu Dhabi and New York. And for those who miss out, there’s always the induction jolly to Milan.
Back in Blighty, the firm moved to new offices in London Wall Place in 2018, and occupies the top five floors of a 16-storey tower which boasts “glass-front double height ceilings with views across the City” and “some serious Succession vibes.”
It is unusual among law firms in that it does not divide its workforce into specialised departments. Consequently, its hundred or so London-based lawyers are expected to work across several practice areas. According to Cleary, this reflects “the firm’s overall commitment to creating a seamlessly interwoven legal practice”. The advantage this has for trainees is that it exposes them to a broad range of work, although the usual four-seat training structure remains in place. Trainees can also choose seats in M&A, finance, dispute resolution, financial regulation, employment, funds, intellectual property and competition law.
“A lot of the learning is ‘on the job’,” remarks one insider, though others laud the many training sessions and points of contact provided to help trainees navigate their way through the work undertaken by firm’s flourishing capital markets practice that newbies are likely to come across in some shape or form.
It also helps that the partners are “very approachable”. “I have two partner mentors and they are always saying hello around the office and encouraging us to come to them with any questions,” reveals a well-supported rookie. Another gushes: “The partners have been incredibly kind and approachable, and the associates I’ve worked with have been endlessly patient and willing to help.” And this goes all the way to the top of the firm: “Senior lawyers make a real effort; the managing partner of the firm (from the NY office) can remember the names of trainees he’s met once in the London office.” Impressive stuff.
Another thing that is impressive about Cleary is its roster of clients that include Coca-Cola, Sony, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, private equity funds and sovereign governments. Billion dollar deals are the norm for Cleary. Recent work includes advising the private equity firm TPG in its $1-billion investment in Tata Motors’ electric vehicle and infrastructure business and OpenText in its $6-billion bid for Micro Focus, one of the world’s largest software companies. A particularly famous deal the US outfit advised on was Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit which involved a 15-month antitrust review process in the European Union, United States, Australia, Japan, and South Africa.
And it’s certainly not like trainees are far from the action: “I’ve been on real matters and client calls since the first couple of weeks, the exposure is amazing.” Another recounts: “I was able to immediately jump into ongoing matters and feel like my days are very full and interesting.”
However, there is the inevitable share of trainee grunt work with one rookie confessing that they “are given the work of a paralegal as well as of a 2PQE lawyer. This leads to many administrative and highly time consuming tasks at the same time as more intricate or higher responsibility ones.” Fortunately the tech is said to be “good” and IT support is “great” which helps trainees handle the more mundane.
As already mentioned, this is not the place for the more laidback with the trade-off for such great exposure and pay being “high stress and long hours”. This spy explains: “Long hours are expected and are often not praised enough. Trainees are ranked based on their billable hours to supervisors every week.” But it may not be all that bad with others stressing that the work/life balance is “actually much better than expected”.
One merry newbie reports: “it is practice group specific (forget it if you are in cap markets) but in my current seat I can leave at 6pm and, if necessary, log back in at home. I have also been travelling on weekends much to my surprise.” Another details that they “have very little time during the week to do much beyond work, but weekends have been respected for the most part.”
Those who are big fans of flexible working, expect to be disappointed; we are told Cleary makes all its newbies come into the office for the first three months of their training contract. After that, however, you get to relish the benefits of “good tech equipment” provided by the firm, though some wish there was a budget for a desk and chair.
When the going gets tough, however, you can rely on your fellow trainees to provide moral support. Cleary scores well for peer support in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “The trainee cohort is very close”, one source explains, thanks in part to the firm’s relatively small intake — around 12 each year. “We often go out together and are always willing to help each other out at work,” another adds with all being “extremely friendly and supportive”.