The Legal Cheek View

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.

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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.

Insider Scorecard

Quality of work
Peer support
Partner approach-ability
Work/life balance
Social life

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


First year trainee salary £40,000
Second year trainee salary £45,000
Newly qualified salary £67,500
Profit per equity partner Undisclosed
GDL grant £7,500
LPC grant £7,500

The figures above are for London. First year trainees in Bristol and Sheffield receive £37,000 and £26,000 respectively, while those in Scotland get £24,000. Newly qualified solicitors in Bristol and Sheffield are paid £49,000 and £40,000 respectively, while those in Scotland have a salary of £39,000. The GDL and LPC grant are £5,000 each outside of London.


Average arrival time 9:01am
Average leave time 7:39pm
Annual target hours Undisclosed
Annual leave 25 days


Chances of secondment abroad 25%
Chances of client secondment 36%

General Info

Training contracts 65
Latest trainee retention rate 75%
Offices 72
Countries 40
Minimum A-level requirement ABB
Minimum degree requirement 2:1


UK female associates 60%
UK female partners 29%
UK BME associates 4%
UK BME partners 2%

Universities Current Trainees Attended

The Firm In Its Own Words