Over a year on from the 2016 mega-merger between CMS Cameron McKenna, Nabarro and Olswang, and CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang (or CMS for short) looms large on the legal landscape. The biggest ever UK legal tie-up by lawyer numbers brings together the scale and quality of CMS, the strength particularly in real estate of Nabarro and the media law cool of Olswang – and oozes potential.
The feedback from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 is that CMS remains a work in progress that can be exciting and frustrating to be part of in equal measure. If there is a theme it’s wide variations between both the legacy firms and the eight UK offices.
Take training, which tends to fluctuate between departments and offices at most firms. At CMS there is the added element of the merger. As such, there are certain preferences that emerge – with “legacy Olswang IP certainly living up to its reputation”, and Nabarro property seats and CMS corporate seats also highly-rated.
Some of the trainees remain grouped around their old firms too. While the dominant vibe is one of supportiveness and friendliness, there has been criticism about “a lack of integration” having taken place so far. A similar dynamic applies among partners. “There’s a notable difference between different senior level staff from the different firms,” a trainee tells us.
Clearly the firm is working hard on creating a new single identity – not least through social events. As one insider tells us: “The merger turned the place into the law firm that rocked for a couple of months. Endless integration drinks for all the different departments, social networks, practice groups, sector groups. It was fun but glad it’s over now.”
But the inevitable standardardisation has also generated gripes. We’re told that some benefit packages are now “less generous”, while the prices in the canteen have apparently jumped by 20%. At the same time, “chips are now served approximately 3 times a week and vegetables are becoming more scarce”. Worse, drinks trolleys “are only every month or two and when they do arrive they are often laden with rubbish like pink wine and twiglets.”
Amid all this, CMS is showing signs of forging a new common identity, based around tech-savvy, anti-traditional lawyer stuffiness and internationalism. On the former the firm scores an A in our survey but is clearly not quite there yet. “Great leaps forward with Surface Pros and updated software have come with teething difficulties,” reports a CMS rookie, “but the firm seems orientated to take short term pain for an exciting future, which is a good thing.”
The unstuffiness, meanwhile, is embodied in the stunning open plan City of London headquarters. However, strong early enthusiasm for the new premises has been muted since the “layout was changed in preparation for the merger so there is now less space and less privacy than there used to be”.
With 72 offices in 40 countries, CMS is the very definition of global – and, unlike at some firms, this is reflected in the secondments: a quarter of trainees and junior lawyers have spent time abroad, according to our figures. Some of the destinations, such as Rio, Mexico City and Beijing, are particularly exotic. CMS is big on client secondments too – 36% of rookies have done one at companies including Mercedes-Benz, GSK and BP.
All the ingredients are there, but mergers – particularly three-way ones – take time to bed in. CMS will be one to watch over the coming years.