The magic circle covenant of good money, exquisite training and elaborate perks in a glamorous setting, in return for high commitment and sometimes long and gruelling hours, is embodied by Clifford Chance.
Training is reportedly “very hands-on and comprehensive” with a strong emphasis on additional training that includes lecture-style sessions, workshops and presentations. Rookies are known to get involved in all aspects of transactions and feel “empowered” to take leading roles in client calls. There is also frequent feedback and advice from partnership and lots of support available.
One CC rookie offers this inside take: “We started off our TC with a full week of training specific to our practice area. In addition, we have had 1-5 hours of additional training each week about specific areas of work, how to best use the resources at the firm and we are encouraged to attend as many events/talks as possible during the week”.
Rave reviews about CC having the “perfect balance between guidance and independence” doesn’t mean you’ll always be doing thrilling work, with the “occasional drudgery” just being part of the course. And the best work seems to be earned rather than given. One junior told Legal Cheek “if you are talented and ambitious, complex and interesting work will come your way”. Not that good work is in short supply. As another trainee boasts, “naturally, we represent a lot of ‘headline’ type clients or banks on deals, which leads to interesting work”.
Newbies, however, argue that top-notch tech is reducing the grunt work. One tells us: “The firm makes heavy use of technology and delegation (to support staff generally) so very little time is spent on ‘non-law’ type tasks that trainees may have been responsible for in the past. This means we get to engage more in drafting and developing transactional skills. I have done far more drafting than I had expected and have been given enough responsibility such that I was essentially running (surprisingly large) deals (of course, always with the associate there to give the green light!)”.
After opening its Newcastle legal support centre in 2018, Clifford Chance has continued to invest in its tech offering, launching a new Research and Development Hub through Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, a tech-focused subsidiary company of CC. The firm also implemented the new document management system iManage which saw the migration of approximately 52 million documents. Trainees greatly appreciate these efforts, with one source branding “the bundling tools” as “life-changing!”. Innovation certainly seems to be in the air, with CC’s IGNITE programme — a training contract route specifically geared to students with an aptitude for technology — offering trainees the option of taking an entire seat with the legal tech team. However, there are apparently still a few senior members of the firm who are slower on the tech uptake and “don’t like change”.
Moving onto perks — let’s face it, when it comes to Clifford Chance what everyone wants to know about is the swimming pool. Yes, the magic circle giant’s London headquarters has its own swimming facilities where trainees can famously swim away their troubles while gazing into the Canary Wharf night. They sometimes need it. The firm is among the poorer performers for work/life balance, with the hours notoriously long during busy spells.
One insider summarises it like this: “Personally 8-9pm (average) is a great work-life balance in comparison to my LLB/LLM where late evenings and weekends were far more frequent. It is the right side of manageable. There isn’t a face-time culture, so you only stay as long as you are actually needed. I think the horror stories of three weeks of 1am finishes are largely exaggerated. I have had to work past midnight twice and there were good reasons for the urgency both times and people are very appreciative of your time. That being said, you do always need your work phone with you. Working from home has also helped the work/life balance as I save commuting time”.
Another adds that hours are “honestly not great but it is very clear what we sign up for — the recruitment video goes ‘we are late nights’!”.
Here is one further trainee’s work/life balance report: “I’m not a morning person but have had to become one to guarantee making it to a gym class. Sometimes it’s easier to make time than other times, but people generally try and help you get out for important dinners/ concerts/ theatre etc. if you tell them”.
In terms of the support that CC offered in response to lockdown, one rookie reveals “every employee at the firm was given a budget for spending on a full desk set up”, adding that “the pandemic has really shown me CC genuinely cares about its employees and is committed to providing us with the necessary equipment”. The firm has announced that going forward it will allow its lawyers to work from home up to 50% of the time.
In non-pandemic times, the powers that be at CC work hard to mitigate the grind with treats beyond office swimming. These include one of Legal Cheek’s favourite freebies: steak at your desk if you are working late. For veggies there are deluxe cheeseboards and fruit platters. However, one rookie lamented that they were “missing the late night chicken goujons”, which apparently haven’t made it back onto the post-lockdown menu. Other extras include use of the firm’s box at the O2 over the river in North Greenwich, an on-site GP, shopping centre, dry cleaner, hairdresser, gym, squash courts and dance studio.
But it’s not all steaks and no play, with drinks every Thursday night and trainee drinks every last Thursday of the month. One insider reports that these CC institutions have begun to blur: “I haven’t yet had a Thursday without at least a few drinks.” Could this be related to the firm achieving record partner profits, up 9% this year to £1.85 million? Happily, the fish and chips served in the in-house canteen on Friday are apparently “the best hangover cure in the world!”. When deals are flowing, we recommend combining it with a double espresso from the firm’s in-house café.
As the City collectively strives to become more green-minded, one trainee tells us “they’ve gone paperless since the pandemic and taken our personal printers away. All gifts sent to us help support sustainability charities”. Another highlights the Canary Wharf estate’s “very good eco-friendly policy”, arguing that “the firm makes an effort to check its own environmental impact but certain teams (energy and infra) go above and beyond with clients to make positive contributions”. Indeed, CC has recently established a new ESG Board, led by global senior partner Jeroen Ouwehand with a team of over 400 lawyers and senior business personnel who work to ensure clients can get advice on issues ranging from energy transition to preventing human rights abuses and sustainability-linked finance.
For those looking to escape CC’s lavish HQ, there are plenty of international secondment opportunities. Past data from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey shows that around a third of rookies typically do one with far-flung destinations including Sao Paulo, Dubai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. For those who prefer to stay on these shores, there are a wide variety of destinations, including top clients like Goldman Sachs and Barclays, but also charities such as Liberty and The Howard League for Penal Reform.
And getting one of these is not as cut throat as you may imagine, with the firm telling us that the vast majority of trainees who request a secondment are successful. This may account for the largely mellow vibes among CC’s junior ranks. “The trainees in general are great. I’ve some close friends but know that if I needed something from another trainee they would be willing to help. I’ve had other trainees stay hours later than they had to to help me out,” one Magic Circle spy tells us. “Nobody here believes success is achieved at others’ expense,” claims another. Prior bonding helps: “The pains of the LPC is a great way of bringing 40 strangers together. Those who suffer together, stay together.”
The partners are “generally great”, though “one or two stick out as odd”. The partner-trainee bond can therefore range somewhat: “some can become friends, whilst others still value hierarchy”. One rookie summarises: “Every superior I have worked with has had open channels of communications. I can ask as many questions as needed, and partners are always ready to help/chat. I also have regular catch-up calls with my supervisor (daily/weekly)”.