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: “Training in every seat has been exceptional. From a week’s induction course for all trainees doing Finance or Capital Markets seats, to weekly presentations on different work products, to a hands-on private acquisition case study (with a negotiation exercise at the end), every department has without exception provided a fantastic base of knowledge from which to complete day-to-day work.”
Plenty of others rave about the “brilliant support and a perfect balance between guidance and independence”. That doesn’t mean you’ll always be doing thrilling work. One of CC’s millennials reports: “This really fluctuated but to be honest, looking back I probably spent nearly a year of my life doing document review, and probably 3-4 months doing bundles, and another 3-4 months doing originals, and maybe 6 months putting in other peoples’ amends. It would have been nice to have had my opinion asked a tiny bit more often.”
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, recent investment in technology by the firm is meaning less drudge work. “Recently the firm has introduced some new pieces of software that are actually really useful when drafting documents, although there is probably still room for improvement,” one trainee 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 is able to review an SPA or FA and flag 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 new lawtech training contract will give a select group of trainees an opportunity to learn more about the service delivery side of the business, while also gaining insights into emerging practice areas like fintech which CC has embraced wholeheartedly.
Moving onto perks — let’s face it, when it comes to Clifford Chance what everything wants to know about is the swimming pool. Yes, the magic circle giant’s London headquarters has its own bathing facilities where trainees can famously wash 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: “Pretty miserable during the work week. I go home just to sleep, I am in the office for every other minute of the day. That being said, I have only had to work 2 weekends over the past 4 months, which has been nice.”
However, another adds that hours are “hugely dependent on the department you are in. If you’re in tax, chances are you’ll have a great life. If you’re in any of the transactional departments, you’ll have to do a bit more juggling/sacrificing. However, on the whole people are considerate of your plans and happy to accommodate as long as you’re not at a crunch point on a deal.”
Here is one further pithy trainee work/life balance report: “The night time security guard’s name is James and he has four children. But no face time culture … There is a view that the best lawyers work when they have to and don’t when they don’t.”
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, and 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 free 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 (and “trainees don’t pay for drinks” is the motto).” Could this be related to the firm’s rising profit per equity partner, which jumped by 16% this year from an already pretty good £1.375 million to an incredible £1.6 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 Starbucks. 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”.
For those looking to escape CC’s lavish HQ, there are plenty of international secondment opportunities. According to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19, 63% of rookies have done one. Far flung destinations include Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Hong Kong. For those who prefer to stay on these shores, around a quarter 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 the Mary Ward Legal Centre and The Howard League. Some lucky kids even get to do two secondments, 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 trainees. “My peers are great (and it’s not Stockholm syndrome talking),” insists one. “Nobody here believes success’s ladder is climbed on the bodies’ of others,” claims another via an unusual metaphor. 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, with CC just missing out on an A in this category. “Some definitely took the ‘casual, flat hierarchy’ approach and are very friendly and helpful,” explains another insider, while a colleague adds: “Approaching most partners (especially the more senior ones) feels like approaching a boss in Dark Souls: terrifying at first, but once you know the right way to go about the whole interaction you’ll probably survive.”