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. The firm saw its global revenue rise for an eighth consecutive year, surpassing the £2 billion mark for the first time (£2.062 billion, to be exact). It also retained profit per equity partner (PEP) of £2 million following a bumper financial year 12 months ago — results not to be knocked against the backdrop of sky-high inflation and subdued economic activity. Indeed, global managing partner Charles Adams had previously warned of “signs of a slowdown in some markets”. The firm recently launched a new office in Houston, Texas, with Adams noting that “growth in the US remains a priority for the firm”.
These strong figures are clearly benefitting the CC juniors off the back of the London pay-war — NQs at the firm earn a whopping £125,000 a year. And trainees are not getting left out. On top of the rather nice salary of £50,000 in the first year and £55,000 in the second year, the firm provided all trainees and business staff with a one-off bonus of £1,500 to help with the cost of living crisis back in July 2022.
The “truly exceptional” training offered by the firm comes in a “great variety” of forms, including lecture-style sessions, workshops and presentations. One insider even reports that “in corporate you do a case study for a full week to stimulate negotiation”. The exact style and level of department-specific training appear to vary, with some trainees reporting an on-the-job approach to learning split over the first three months of the seat and others mentioning a more “classroom-based” experience upon induction to the team. Rookies are known to get involved in all aspects of transactions and are “given a great deal of responsibility”, including taking leading roles in client calls. There is also frequent feedback and advice from partners, who are “extremely approachable” in the main. It is clear that trainees are inspired by those teaching them: “We have people who write the textbooks, and those who don’t, should”, one insider boasts.
Another 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 some tasks described as “purely process”, especially in some of the larger departments — par for the course when it comes to City law. But as one trainee describes, “there’s inevitable grunt work — and occasionally large volumes of it. At the same time in most teams there’s an effort to minimise it and find more interesting stuff for trainees”.
A great help in this area are the firm’s ‘Delivery Centres’ in Newcastle and Delhi, where much of the “particularly laborious” administrative work traditionally given to trainees is now sent. This frees trainees up to complete more “challenging and stimulating work such as drafting and research tasks” — as long as the department does outsource effectively (we’re told take-up of this support resource seems to be hit-and-miss at times). And the best work seems to be earned rather than given. One junior told Legal Cheek: “If you show you are capable you can get some very interesting work and are treated as an associate”. 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”.
When it comes to tech, one rookie reported that the firm’s offering “could be better”, with another describing it as simply “fine.” But this appears to be mainly in reference to the more cutting-edge tech developments, which “is rarely actually used”. As one spy summarises: “The firm covers the basics really well – we are given good laptops and iPhones, IT training is regularly available to opt in to and excellent IT support is just a phone call away. Cutting-edge legal tech, however, has not been visible in my experience”.
But in terms of a wider approach to innovation, things seem rosy at the firm. Aside from opening its various support centres, Clifford Chance has continued to invest in its tech offering, launching a Research and Development Hub tasked with finding fresh digital solutions for the firm and its clients. Indeed, the firm’s approach to innovation is felt right down to its roots, with the IGNITE programme acting as a training contract route with a twist — it has a unique focus on technology, offering trainees the option of taking an entire seat with the legal tech team.
Clifford Chance recently announced major plans to move out of its Canary Wharf HQ and into a smaller base in the City, to accommodate new hybrid work arrangements. The future move looks to be a welcome one amongst current juniors, who are “looking forward” to the new digs. But until then, let’s face it, when it comes to Clifford Chance what everyone wants to know about is the swimming pool. If the on-site GP, shopping centre, dry cleaner, hairdresser, gym, squash courts, dance studio, daily Deliveroo allowance (£20 past 7pm) and use of the firm’s box at the O2 Arena aren’t enough, 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.
Described as being “unpredictable” and “challenging at times”, your work/ life balance — or lack of it — is the price many CC trainees have to pay, as is the case with most top-tier firms. However, this is an aspect which “massively varies by department”, and flexible working has further benefitted the life of trainees in this aspect. As one rookie tells Legal Cheek: “I have had to work on a Sunday and late on Friday nights. But this is interspersed with quieter times when I can leave at 6. Flexible working makes the work/life balance easier to manage, as you can leave the office and log back on from home”. Whilst weekends are “usually safe”, several trainees cited a feeling of needing to be “on call 24/7”.
But at least you can count on feeling well-supported when you are on a late-night grind. The firm takes on approximately 110 trainees across two cohorts each year, with the group described as “a very fun and collegiate bunch, who know how to work hard and play hard too”. And CC juniors start to build these bonds early on: “Going through the pains of law school together beforehand definitely brings you together”, one junior tells Legal Cheek. “Those who suffer together, stay together”. Another rookie describes their experience of being helped out by a fellow trainee: “Other trainees are extremely supportive and helpful, often taking the time to show newer trainees how to do things, even if they don’t know you personally. A 3rd seat trainee spent 45 minutes talking me through the complexities of my first signing, and was nothing but lovely”.
And insiders also feel supported by their seniors, with the partnership described as “extremely approachable” and happy to “give advice if you seek it out”. Whilst some mention this aspect as again being “department dependent”, this appears to be down to the workload, not lack of willingness, of the partners. As one rookie puts it, “some partners are happy to take you out for coffee and will encourage reaching out to them directly, while some supervisors are too busy to get to know their own trainees”. With revenues of over £2 billion, it’s no surprise that sometimes the partners are a bit on the busy side!
And when you are spending so many hours at the office, it’s a great help if it’s a nice one — which for the CC crew, it is. Phew! As one insider enthuses, “huge skyscraper in Canary Wharf, masses of glass in the offices with incredible views, light-up-in-different colours escalators!”. Then there is also the array of on-site amenities, including a gym, squash courts, spin studio, hair salon, and, of course, a swimming pool! But whilst the “impressive” views and an array of facilities will probably never get old, office furniture does and some of the junior lawyers report that the inside of the office is beginning to look “slightly outdated now” and in some cases “very dull”. But fear not, CC has announced it will return to the City in 2028 with a “more modern” HQ on Aldermanbury Square.
If the desk chairs in the office aren’t to your tastes, the firm’s flexible working policy means you can remain in the comfort of your own home half of the time. But as one rookie warns, working from home means that there are “no free dinners”! Like many firms, CC offers trainees a “very generous” £400 WFH subsidy to buy all the equipment they need. We advise you to invest in a comfy chair…
For those looking to escape CC’s lavish HQ, there are plenty of international secondment opportunities. 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, Singapore, Sydney and Abu Dhabi. Nice for some! For those who prefer to stay on these shores, there are a wide variety of destinations, including top clients like Amazon and HSBC, but also charities such as Liberty, Reprieve and the Mary Ward Legal Advice Centre. 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. A number of the trainees surveyed also praised the opportunity to do a split-seat at CC, with three months spent seconded to a client and the other half back at the firm.
As the City collectively strives to become more green-minded, one trainee notes that the firm’s environmental impact is “clearly a priority” and “a main concern amongst the management”. In this regard, another junior noted that the firm is increasingly digital: “I see less and less paper (unless it’s time to bundle)”. What’s more, the impact of the fast-paced, high-stakes CC life on its employees is also being examined from an ESG standpoint by the firm. The firm implemented Charles Alberts as its first global head of wellbeing and employee experience and tasked him with creating a global wellbeing strategy. On the client side, CC have worked to establish a dedicated Global 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.