A lot has changed in the past decade at Clyde & Co. The firm has transformed itself from a respected but relatively niche shipping and insurance law practice into a global full service megafirm. Following a merger with the insurance-focused firm BLM in 2022, Clydes now has 14 offices in the UK, having added BLM’s Birmingham, Southampton, Belfast and Derry outposts to its existing nine UK offices. The BLM merger, which will add 45 new equity partners to the firm, is expected to grow revenues to the tune of £740 million. BLM’s casualty insurance practice is expected to bring in an estimated £75 million, creating the UK’s largest casualty practice worth around £125 million.
But don’t forget Clyde’s other 50+ gaffs internationally — indeed the majority of its revenue (56% according to its latest financial results) comes from outside the UK, predominantly from North America (22%), Asia Pacific (14%) and the Middle East and Africa (12%).
Such growth can be turbulent, but Clydes is seen as having handled its enlargement — which began with the 2011 takeover of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert — pretty well, with a focus lately on US growth. The firm has recently opened new offices in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver in the US as well as new offices in Vancouver, Canada through a merger with SHK Law Corporation. This adds to the firm’s existing American locations in Chicago, Washington, Miami and Los Angeles. Elsewhere, Clydes opened a permanent presence in Chile in August 2022, in Munich in February 2021 and an associated office in Nairobi in October 2020.
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. Global revenue is up for the 24th consecutive year, hitting £650 million, a 1.6% rise on last year. Profit per equity partner, however, has dipped 1% to £708,000 following a rise in the number of equity partners to 225.
For trainees, the obvious benefit of all of this has historically been lots of secondment options, with Hong Kong, Dubai and Dar es Salaam being popular destinations in the past. However, insiders reveal that this has changed over the past 12 months: “There are barely any opportunities to do an international secondment at Clydes, they only sent two trainees out to Dubai last seat rotation, and only one trainee for the next rotation.” Another spy complains: “Understandably, due to Covid, there has not been a lot of choice. But only offering 1-2 spaces when we have as many offices as we do globally is a bit irritating.”
It’s worth bearing in mind that Clydes is now so big — with upwards of 40 training contract places annually, the firm is among the biggest trainers of solicitors in the country — that the differences between departments can be similarly huge. Work is known to, at best, get trainees involved in “some seriously complex and high value claims” and, at worst, leave them feeling like “a monkey on a typewriter” so expect to be doing your fair share of bundles.
“In smaller departments, trainees get to take on associate-level work. In bigger departments, you get involved in huge cases, but correspondingly, only get to do menial or very administrative tasks. However, it is good exposure either way,” one trainee tells us. Another adds: “Good preparation in advance of the TC. Supportive partners and supervisors. You learn on the job and sometimes get thrown in the deep-end with chargeable work which can be daunting but exciting.”
Despite all the growth, the firm seems to have managed to retain its culture with a “very tightly knit” trainee cohort that regularly organises fun socials. Although one lauded their fellow rookies as “probably the best part about Clyde & Co,” we are cautioned to beware of the odd “snake”: “There are a few trainees who think they are better than everybody else. But I guess you find them in each rotation.”
And the “exceptionally intelligent” partners seem to be pretty nice, though this is known to vary between departments with some being a little too busy to always lend an ear to newbies. But on the whole it’s not bad, as one insider details: “Supervisors always encourage you to take on work from various fee earners to get a feel of what associate work looks like in a given department. This means that they are happy to answer any questions and actually encourage you to ask questions.” 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 are 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. One embittered non-London rookie confessed to being “envious of London’s canteen” which is situated on the top floor and boasts “amazing views of the city”. 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.
The Manchester office is “not as impressive”, with no canteen. But at least all Clydes’ lawyers in the city are now under one roof, whereas until 2019 they were scattered around different sites.
The work/life balance is pretty good. As one insider summarises: “I feel that I cannot complain too much. I have had to cancel evening plans and work weekends to meet deadlines for a few weeks but this is not the norm and I usually finish work at around 6 or 7. Clyde does not encourage anyone to work late or weekends and encourages you to pursue your hobbies outside of work as these make you a more rounded person and a more relatable lawyer.”
However, there are several who are less satisfied and feel that the pay could be better for the hours. In London, Clydes’ trainees start on £42k and newly qualified (NQ) associates currently take home £80,000. “Work/life balance really does tend to depend on the seat, and despite Clyde & Co claiming it provides a lower salary than others in the market due to a better work/ life balance offered, this isn’t really true. 8pm finishes are normal, with some days stretching much longer,” says one rookie.
There can again 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.
As for the reality of working from home, look no further than this description: “Working from home is team-dependent so differs throughout the firm. Trainees are expected to be in the office four days a week which can lead to you being in the office on your own if the rest of the team are given greater flexibility. Some teams have team office days to circumvent this and ensure the whole team is in the office two days per week (or more depending on the team). Other teams seem to acknowledge work/life balance, the effects of a long commute etc more and allow trainees more flexibility by not enforcing the four days in the office allowing greater working from home.”
The commute is a big deal for some with Clydes posting a handful of London trainees to its Guildford office for a few months each year. Many of these newbies find themselves moaning about the commute — even though it’s usually tempered by finishing work earlier. And more complaints about the commute are anticipated in the future: the Guildford office is apparently moving even further from London!
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 on offer to its lawyers. “The firm has a Data Lab but they could make it more clear what this does and how it helps us,” one confused rookie confides.