The Legal Cheek View
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 recently 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 year, rising 14% to £508.1m, with profit per equity partner down slightly (2%) to £650,000.
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.
Still, 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", and partners seen to be generally pretty nice. Explains one insider: “Some are terrifying, but the vast majority are friendly, appreciative, approachable and happy to talk to you.”
Like all firms with multiple UK offices, there is some tension 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. 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 as the London head office. There is no canteen or coffee shop, no prayer rooms, not even a library. Glass in the windows has had to be replaced due to window panes falling out.”
Most of the grumbles centre around pay, which rookies describe as “rather miserly” and “far below market rate”. At least the work-life balance is good – Clydes is a strong scorer in this area, 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 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 there is strong feeling that remuneration should rise to reflect this.