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 in Clifford Chance.
Let’s start with the training. One CC rookie describes it like this: “There is lots of ongoing training within each seat on top of the introductory training, usually within the first week of each seat. Most associates and even partners are willing to take the time to explain a transaction or case and to answer questions, particularly related to jargon. I learnt what ‘hot tubbing’ [when two experts on opposing sides of a court case are put in a witness box to debate an issue] was this week!”
Plenty of others rave about the “brilliant support” and “perfect balance between guidance and independence” Clifford Chance offers. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be doing thrilling work. One of CC’s millennials reports: “It has varied from sending faxes for a week (to the extent telephony asked if I wanted a fax machine at my desk…) to being let loose drafting documents, preparing for and running calls and running aspects of transactions. On the flipside I’ve spent more late nights staring at Excel spreadsheets and doing due diligence than I care to remember.”
However, others suggest that “if you are talented and ambitious, complex and interesting work will come your way” and note that “even the mundane work is usually part of something fairly complex”.
Happily, continued investment in technology by the firm, alongside the launch of a legal support centre in Newcastle in 2018, means less drudge work at CC’s London HQ. “As a trainee I regularly use contract companion/online transaction management software,” one insider tells us.
Another states that “proofreading for a CC trainee is either using the 24/7 proofreading service within our Document Production Unit, or Contract Companion, which reviews an SPA or FA and flags all the typos, defined terms issues and cross-reference errors within seconds, which you can then mark-up and give to your secretary to amend”. The firm’s lawtech training contract gives a select group of trainees an opportunity to learn more about the service delivery side of the business, while also gaining insights into emerging areas like fintech which CC has embraced wholeheartedly.
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: “There are months when a particular department is generally very busy and in those times hours can get pretty rough. What does matter however is that superiors are very supportive of trainees during those times and will almost always stay in the office if long hours are necessary and try to give you some downtime when things calm down.”
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 have to carve out time to see friends, who are accommodating about the trek to Canary Wharf for dinners. Having said that, most associates don’t mind you taking the time out as long as you meet your deadlines and are happy for you to manage your time. Meeting people in the morning before work tends to be a safer option than evening plans.”
In terms of the support that CC offered in response to the 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.” Another tells us they’ve been “pleasantly surprised how well tech has held up and how supportive teams have been. I’ve probably had more catch ups and interactions than I would have had in the office.”
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. 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’s rising profit per equity partner, which is up 5% this year to £1.69 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. However, a recent canteen refurb has drawn criticism, with a host of new dishes provoking unease. “The Louisiana creole is to be avoided,” warns one regular diner. The food is also apparently “terrible for vegans”.
As the City collectively strives to become more green-minded, one trainee tells us they often print “700 – 800 pages on average a week for meetings and people to review” but that there are “talks of a shift to a paperless workplace”. Another highlights the Canary Wharf estate’s “very good eco-friendly policy”.
For those looking to escape CC’s lavish HQ, there are plenty of international secondment opportunities. According to this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey, around a third of rookies typically do one – although the pandemic has impacted the number of opportunities available. Far flung destinations include Sao Paulo, Dubai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. For those who prefer to stay on these shores, around 20% of trainees do a client secondment. There is 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. Some juniors have even completed virtual secondments during lockdown, we understand.
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 not too bad either, particularly during tougher times. “Extremely supportive,” one comments. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit there was no question from the partners that well-being was the top priority”. Another colleague describes their superiors as a “mixed bag” who on the whole “want to help and are approachable”.