The Legal Cheek View

Five years on from the 2017 three-way merger between CMS Cameron McKenna, Nabarro, and Olswang, the combined mega-firm CMS seems to be developing nicely. The biggest ever UK legal tie-up by lawyer numbers brings together the scale and quality of CMS Cameron McKenna, the real estate strength of Nabarro, and the media law cool of Olswang.

On the financial side, CMS saw a strong bounce in revenues following last year’s more modest result. Global turnover was up 18% to €1.75 billion (£1.49 billion), while the UK figure grew 14% to reach £644 million. Profits per equity partner were also up 14% to £1.04 million, crossing the million pound threshold for the first time. In January 2020, the firm opted for stability by re-electing senior partner Penelope Warne for another four-year term who in 2021 officially added the Norwegian firm Kluge to CMS’s ranks taking the firm’s headcount to over 5,000 lawyers.

The firm also has one of the largest reaches across the UK, with seven regional offices in England and Scotland. Trainees are split between them, although the majority are in London. Sheffield has particular significance to the firm, as it was Nabarro’s original base, while CMS’ Scottish offices come from its 2014 takeover of Dundas & Wilson, previously one of the biggest firms north of the border. It has further outposts in Bristol, Reading and Manchester, but took the strategic decision in early 2020 to shutter its second funds-focused London hub in Mayfair.

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There can be a fair bit of travel between all of these offices, which is where some of CMS’ best perks kick in. They include business class travel for certain journeys, mostly on flights to London City rather than harder to reach airports, and some five-star hotel stays with breakfasts and lunches. 

Training at CMS can be summed up as “great quality work, lots of client contact and a focus on your development”. One rookie reports: “The continued support and guidance has really helped my ability to move between different departments smoothly, understand the areas of law I’d like to work in and provide career guidance for the next steps to qualification”. However, the best stuff may only arrive “once you’ve proven that you’re capable” and some feel that CMS is a victim of its own success: “the team can be very busy and so there is not always time for training”.

However, once you can demonstrate a strong grasp of the fundamentals, there’s a decent range of work without too many admin tasks. Drilling into the details, the breadth of work includes drafting documents, assisting on the signing process for large scale transactions and preparing documents for court hearings amongst other things. “The work is overall of great quality and there is lots of trust from the team” remarks one, whilst another praises how “partners are happy to give significant levels of responsibility to juniors”.

Indeed partners have an excellent reputation for being “extremely friendly” and are frequently on hand to help out newbies and junior lawyers. “Everyone has an open door policy, so I can ask questions both online and in the office freely. This helps work production, efficiency levels and getting to know the team more easily”, says one grateful insider. 

Trainees also get on well and are not too competitive with one another. “The cohort of trainees are hugely supportive. We are a diverse group of people, keen to learn and support each other through the journey. I always feel like there is someone I can go to to ask questions or share my experience with”. The open plan office is also great for just shouting over with little questions. Overall this is a place with a nice vibe, as reflected in the buoyant trainee social scene. There are “lots of drinks” and the popular ‘CMS Football World Cup’ (for boys and girls) is “on a different level — incredible fun and best thing about the firm”.

Key planks of CMS’ new common identity are tech-savviness, anti-traditional lawyer stuffiness, and internationalism. Trainees are known to enjoy “a variety of legal tech to help improve the efficiency of transactional work and day-to-day admin”, although it “doesn’t always work”. Good tech has also helped with working from home. “The firm is very flexible and are brilliant at sending anything needed to help with setup (monitors, keyboards and even chairs if needed)” says one spy, whilst the “IT team is available at a moment’s notice”. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly then WFH is popular when your supervisor is on board. Generally, insiders are quite content with the work/life balance (a rarity for a big international firm!), only complaining about the unpredictability of when you may be called in to do your time. The general rule is “weekdays are workdays, weekends generally respected”, though this again can depend on your supervisor: “some are very respectful and others have no concept of work-life balance”. 

On the whole, “there is an ethos of work hard play hard and there’s definitely not a face-time culture. If you’ve done your work then they encourage you to enjoy life outside of work”. Another details: “I’ve generally found I am able to go to the gym around work, which benefits my mental health, and make time to socialise outside of work. The work is demanding, but highly rewarding, and we are encouraged to take breaks!”. For a starting salary of £50k and newly qualified pay of £100,000 that’s a pretty good deal. 

The London office, located in a very fancy building above Cannon Street station in the City, is totally open plan, with “first class” facilities and a rather un-law firm-like appearance that seems to draw inspiration from airport first-class departure lounges and tech companies in equal measure. “It has taps that produce sparkling water. Need I say more?” states one hydrated insider. Free breakfasts and barista coffees are also much appreciated. Beyond London, rookies’ reviews deem the new Sheffield office yet to be looking “great”, whilst the high standard of the London office is yet to reach CMS’s Bristol and Manchester outfits, the latter of which is due to be refurbished soon.

With over 70 offices in over 44 countries, CMS is the very definition of global. This is reflected in the secondments: normally around a quarter of trainees and junior lawyers spend time abroad, according to our figures. Some of the destinations, such as Rio, Mexico and Beijing, are particularly exotic. CMS is big on client secondments too — nearly half of rookies surveyed have done one at companies including EDF Renewables, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, GSK and BP.


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Insider Scorecard

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

Insider Scorecard grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022–23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


First year trainee salary £50,000
Second year trainee salary £55,000
Newly qualified salary £100,000
Profit per equity partner £1,040,000
GDL grant £10,000
LPC grant £10,000

The figures above are for London. First year trainees in Bristol earn £43,000, rising to £45,000 in their second year, whilst NQ solicitors earn £65,000. First year trainees in Manchester and Sheffield receive £31,500, rising to £34,500 in their second year, and £57,500 upon qualification. First year trainees in Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow) get £28,000, rising to £31,000 in their second year, and £57,500 upon qualification. The GDL and LPC grant are £7,500 each outside of London.


Average start work time 08:52
Average finish time 19:16
Annual target hours Undisclosed
Annual leave 25 days

Average arrive and leave times are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022-23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


Chances of secondment abroad 3%
Chances of client secondment 43%

Secondment probabilities are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2022–23 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK. Please note that due to COVID-19 secondment probabilities are lower than in usual years.

General Info

Training contracts 95
Latest trainee retention rate 88%
Offices 80
Countries 40+
Minimum A-level requirement No minimum
Minimum degree requirement No minimum


UK female associates 63%
UK female partners 36%
UK BME associates 17%
UK BME partners 5%

CMS does not refer to employees as ‘BME’ but rather as ethnic minority employees which is what the BME statistics above refer to.

Universities Current Trainees Attended

The Firm In Its Own Words