The Legal Cheek View

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

The feedback from this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey is encouraging, with the firm consolidating on its improved scores last year to achieve strong grades again, including for tech savvy — a key element of its new combined identity. Notably, the wide variations between the legacy firms are becoming less of a thing as more of the firm embraces its new collective identity — although the legacy CMS and Nabarro partners still dress much more smartly than their former Olswang counterparts, we are told!

On the financial side, overall turnover is up to £546 million, a 5% increase on the previous year. CMS has again not disclosed a profit per equity partner (PEP) figure this year.

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Training is “excellent and hands-on”, with “legacy Olswang IP certainly living up to its reputation”, and Nabarro property seats and CMS corporate seats also highly-rated. The work is extremely varied, and reflects the firm’s strengths across areas as diverse as oil & gas, media and finance. “[There is a] huge range of work including some menial tasks, but overall fairly stimulating,” one rookie tells us.

Gripes that we encountered previously about some of the trainees remaining grouped around their old firms are again notably absent in the comments to this year’s survey. Instead we are told that the “culture is quite cohesive” and that “we all go for lunch and tea breaks together and everyone (at all levels) are receptive to questions (no matter how silly)”. But like most trainee intakes, CMS is no utopia. Beware of “competitive” peers who sometimes behave “in a passive aggressive manner”. Partners are the usual mix of friendly and frosty (depending on how stressed they are), with “most of them very approachable”.

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-savvy, anti-traditional lawyer stuffiness and internationalism. On the former the firm again scores impressively in our survey this year. This is down to several factors, notably: the Surface Pro laptops everyone has been given, the “excellent” 24/7 IT help desk and a genuine commitment to agile working that makes it “easy” to do (which is often not the case at large law firms, despite well-meaning intentions). However, we have heard some gripes this year about a creeping “face-time culture” and the limitations of laptops (“try and do more than one task on your Surface Pro and the whole thing crashes”).

Others, however, report that while “the hours can be unpredictable” there is “absolutely no face-time culture here” and it’s normal to “take Surface Pro home to work in the evenings” when necessary. This in turn has eased the strain on CMS’ flagship London office, which in the past has been felt to be a bit crowded at times amid a considerable increase in post-merger headcount. Said office, located in a very fancy new 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. But be warned about the coffee, dubbed by one connoisseur as “Nescafe coffee-flavoured hot water”.

With over 70 offices in over 40 countries, CMS is the very definition of global. This is reflected in the secondments: 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 — over half of rookies surveyed have done one at companies including Mercedes-Benz, GSK and BP.

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 in the country. Bristol, Reading, Manchester and a second London office in Mayfair that focuses on private client work form a total of nine UK offices.

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

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 2019–20 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.


First year trainee salary £43,000
Second year trainee salary £48,000
Newly qualified salary £73,000
Profit per equity partner Undisclosed
GDL grant £7,500
LPC grant £7,500

The figures above are for London. Newly qualified (NQ) solicitors in London are eligible for a bonus of up to 20% based on performance and “contribution to the firm”. This means they can receive a total pay package worth up to £87,600. First year trainees in Bristol earn £38,000, rising to £40,000 in their second year. First year trainees in Manchester and Sheffield receive £28,000, rising to £31,000 in their second year. First year trainees in Scotland get £25,000, rising to £28,000 in their second year. NQ solicitors in Bristol are paid £50,000. NQs in Manchester and Sheffield earn £42,000, while those in Scotland have a salary of £41,000. The GDL and LPC grant are £5,000 each outside of London.


Average arrival time 09:04
Average leave time 19:31
Annual target hours Undisclosed
Annual leave 25 days

Average arrive and leave times are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK. Trainee target hours are 1,200.


Chances of secondment abroad 25%
Chances of client secondment 55%

Secondment probabilities are derived from the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019–20 of over 2,000 trainees and junior associates at the leading law firms in the UK.

General Info

Training contracts 65
Latest trainee retention rate 80%
Offices 74
Countries 42
Minimum A-level requirement ABB
Minimum degree requirement 2:1


UK female associates 65%
UK female partners 32%
UK BME associates 14%
UK BME partners 3%

Universities Current Trainees Attended

The breakdown for trainees’ school backgrounds are as follows: 58% state funded, 25% privately funded and 18% overseas.

The Firm In Its Own Words