Over the last decade Clyde & Co has transformed itself from a respected but relatively niche shipping and insurance law practice into a global full service megafirm. In the UK alone, Clydes now has ten offices, with a further 36 internationally, including a substantial presence in the US, Asia and the Middle East.
Such growth can be turbulent, but Clydes is seen as having handled its enlargement – which included the 2011 takeover of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert and, most recently, the gobbling up of Scottish firm Simpson & Marwick – pretty well under the stewardship of former senior partner James Burns. The progress has continued under global chief executive officer Peter Hasson, with a focus on US growth where the firm has opened offices in Chicago, Washington, Miami and Los Angeles.
It’s a bold and eye-catching strategy for a UK-headquartered firm to target the notoriously tough to crack American market, but Clydes’ financials indicate that so far it seems to be working. Revenue passed the half a billion pound mark this last year, and was up again 9% to hit £551.3 million in the most recent financials. Profit per equity partner, meanwhile, rose slightly (2%) to £660,000.
For trainees, the obvious benefit of all of this is international secondments – around a third do one, with San Francisco (the firm’s first US office, founded presciently in 2008 to take advantage of the ensuing tech boom) a reasonably common destination. There’s also access to big name clients and global work. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that now that Clydes is so big – with its 50 training contract places annually, the firm is now among the biggest trainers of solicitors in the country – the differences between departments can be similarly huge. “Responsibility in departments varies with notably low responsibility in larger litigation departments. In the departments with high responsibility there is significant opportunity to learn and develop skills,” one trainee tells us.
Another adds: “Work is overall excellent. Most departments give you loads of opportunity to work on interesting cases with high levels of responsibility. Even the bigger departments with more ‘trainee’-style work have a good variety. Obviously the departments with the higher-value cases are going to have some more ‘trainee’-style work, but Clyde’s has some departments with higher volume that give you essentially an associate-level experience, and I don’t think most City firms can say that.”
Despite all the growth the firm seems to have managed to retain its culture, with a largely “tightly knit” trainee cohort apparently “sticking together well”. Beware, though, the odd “snake”. Overall we’re told that: “Our trainee intake are simply fabulous. There’s usually a bi-monthly social event going on for someone’s birthday, housewarming etc. and 90% of people are very honest about their seat choices and career aspirations so there’s generally very little game-playing.”
And partners seem to be pretty nice, scoring an A* for approachability in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19. Explains one insider: “Some are terrifying, but the vast majority are friendly, appreciative, approachable and happy to talk to you.” Another quips: “I’ve made jokes at the expense of every partner I’ve ever worked for and they’ve laughed (without being forced to laugh by the employment tribunal).”
Like all firms with multiple UK offices, there is some mild tensions between the regions and the mothership. In Clydes’ case this is exacerbated somewhat by its glamorous blue glass London home in the St Botolph Building, which apparently boasts a “fantastic” canteen with a lovely view and standout brownies, porridge and Chicken Shawarma. Plus there’s said to be an “an amazing pastry chef!” Come the evening, it morphs into a bar where the first beer every other Thursday is free and a cleverly named Clyde & Cocktails social is held every month. Still, the Londoners don’t have it all, being split between the St Botolph and some rather less glamorous neighbouring office space.
The Manchester office is “not as impressive as the London head office”, with no canteen. But the work/life balance is good – Clydes is a strong scorer in this area across the firm, with most lawyers clocking off by 7pm outside very busy periods. “The vast majority of times I can make and keep to evening plans. I have, however, been made to work on a Saturday at very last minute,” one trainee tells us. However, there can be wide variations between teams and offices. While staying until 6pm “is classed as staying late” in the Manchester insurance team, this is certainly not the case in the London deal teams – and some feel that remuneration should rise to reflect this.
In Clydes’ Guildford office, meanwhile, “you can’t spin your chair without knocking down a stack of boxes from the 1980s”. Each year a handful of London trainees inevitably get posted to Guildford for a few months, and find themselves about moaning about the commute – even though it’s usually tempered by finishing work earlier.
Lately, Clyde & Co has been investing in tech. Like many firms, there is a bit of a disconnect between the outward facing stuff – Clydes has established “an innovative consultancy service which provides clients with fully integrated legal and technical advice and services to help them realise the growing potential of smart contracts” – and the internal IT. “The IT department is understaffed and under-resourced, I don’t think there’s been a single video-teleconference that has gone smoothly,” one rookie confides. While another jokes that “any day where I can competently send an email without my PC catching on fire is a good day”. But rumour has it that laptops are on the way as the firm makes a flexible working push. As with most things at this well-run and ambitious firm, it will get there in the end – and then probably end up doing it very well.