A year 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 the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2018-19 is encouraging, with the firm improving significantly on its scores last year to achieve a sweep of As and an A* 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 identify – 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 £518 million, a £29 million increase on the combined results of Cameron McKenna, Nabarro and Olswang in their final year as separate entities. CMS has not disclosed a profit per equity figure this year, but has indicated that wider profitability is up around 20%. Newly qualified solicitor pay was raised this year to £70,000.
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 last year about some of the trainees remaining grouped around their old firms are 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’s new common identity are tech-savvy, anti-traditional lawyer stuffiness and internationalism. On the former the firm scores an A* 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).
We’re told that although “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’s flagship London office, which was felt to be a bit crowded at times last year 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.
With 74 offices in 40 countries, CMS is the very definition of global. This is reflected in the secondments: around a quarter of trainees and junior lawyers spend 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 – a similar amount of rookies 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’s 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 in 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’s 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.