The Legal Cheek View
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 is riding the wave of a bumper year financially, which saw them secure profit per equity partner (PEP) of above £2 million (£2.04 million to be precise) for the first time. This is an increase of 10% on the previous year and is complemented by an 8% growth in global revenue to £1.96 billion.
Such happy figures are clearly benefitting the CC juniors as the London pay-war continues to rumble on — 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 announced a one-off bonus in July 2022 of £1,500 for all trainees and business staff to help with the cost of living crisis.
These positive numbers may come as a surprise, given that the firm’s recently installed global managing partner, Charles Adams, warned of “signs of a slowdown in some markets”. It appears that Adams’ premiership, which began in May 2022, will be one of realistic optimism. The geopolitical situation in Ukraine led to the firm shuttering its Moscow office and the impact this may have on future revenues is yet to be seen.
The “comprehensive and detailed” 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 and others mentioning a more “classroom-based” experience. 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. 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 the “occasional drudgery” just being par for the course. 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 minimize 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 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”.
In terms of tech, rookies report that the firm’s offering “could be better” — but this only appears to be in reference to the more cutting-edge tech developments, which some partners are reportedly “reluctant” to try. 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 new Research and Development Hub through Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, a tech-focused subsidiary 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!”. 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.
Moving onto perks — 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 “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 “mostly respected”, several trainees cited a feeling of needing to “be on call all the 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’!”.
But at least you can count on feeling well-supported when you are on a late-night grind. With a “large cohort” (the firm takes on approximately 110 trainees across two cohorts each year) made up of “lots of personalities”, you’re bound to find people you gel with. And these bonds can begin early on. “The pains of the LPC is a great way of bringing 40 strangers together. 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 spend 45 minutes talking me through the complexities of my first signing, and was nothing but lovely”.
And insiders also feel supported by their seniors: “Partners are very willing to teach and supervisors would always be able to spare a moment for you”. 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 almost £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!”. But whilst the “City views” will never get old, office furniture does and some of the junior lawyers report that the inside of the office is beginning to look “rather dated compared to rival firms”.
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 offer trainees a £400 WFH subsidy to buy all the equipment they need. We advise you 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, Hong Kong, Sydney and Abu Dhabi. For those who prefer to stay on these shores, there are a wide variety of destinations, including top clients like Amazon and Natwest, but also charities such as Liberty, Reprieve 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. One of the trainees surveyed even reported doing two secondments, in Abu Dhabi and in Paris. Nice for some!
As the City collectively strives to become more green-minded, one trainee tells us that there’s “no needless printing”, but that does appear to be the extent of any environmental commitments trainees have noticed. More encouragingly, the impact of the fast-paced, high-stakes CC life on its employees is also being examined from an ESG standpoint by the firm. In the summer of 2022, the firm appointed 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 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.