Trainees relish the challenge of working at this global corporate and finance powerhouse.
Clifford would be a fine thing
Why Clifford Chance? A simple question which we put to our CC interviewees, but one that produced many answers. For one it was “the chance to work on newsworthy deals.” For another, “the opportunity to work with the most elite clients in the world of finance.” A third said it was because “many firms say they're global, but CC is truly.” Others pointed to “softer factors” that influenced their decision, from not having to wear a tie all the time to efforts to boost diversity. “It's great working with such an international mix of people," one interviewee said. "We have people with different types of personality here and that's exactly the type of energy you want when you're working late nights.” Sources noted that CC was far from being a “pale, male and stale workplace” – 53% of trainees are women and 41% are from an ethnic minority background.
“It's great working with such an international mix of people."
Aside from these softer qualities, there's hard evidence too of why trainees with an interest in global business picked this firm: revenue grew to £1.54 billion in 2016/17, making this the seventh largest law firm in the world by revenue and the largest firm originating in the UK. Along with magic circle chums Linklaters and Allen & Overy, CC has also raked in more top Chambers UK rankings than any other UK-based firm. Twenty-six gold stars adorn its practices, with particular recognition for the 270 fee earners who make up the prestigious banking and finance team. The firm acts for all the big names of global banking – Goldman Sachs, Citibank, HSBC, Deutsche, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, UBS – as well as major corporations like Sainsbury's, Serco, Pfizer, Airbus and General Electric. CC has strong non-transactional practices too: the 100-lawyer disputes department for starters. And we haven't even mentioned the network of chunky international offices across Europe and the world – go to chambersandpartners.co.uk and take a look at the Chambers Global rankings for a full overview of the firm's international renown.
Chambers Global Top 30 ranks Clifford Chance in second position among the world's most capable firms – that's the highest of the magic circle.
Although there are over 200 trainees – the second highest number of any UK law firm – our sources weren't too bothered about being a small part of a larger machine. “I've never been in a situation where I felt I couldn't add value," one said – and that's despite working on big deal teams consisting of several partners and associates. Being part of a big organisation “definitely has its perks,” our sources agreed, pointing to the 'knowledge centre' in India which “tackles some of the more intensive and menial tasks,” and the availability of 24-hour secretarial assistance for admin support.
Clifford Chance's multitude of departments fall into six core groups: corporate; finance; capital markers; real estate; dispute resolution; and tax, pensions, employment and incentives. Around 70 of the seats on offer in the London office are in capital markets and finance; around 30 are in private equity and M&A; around 15 in disputes; and around ten in real estate. Teams like competition, financial regulation, tax, employment and TMT take a handful of trainees each rotation. As for seat allocation, after receiving departmental talks “to get a flavour of the seats on offer” during their firm-specific LPC, trainees are invited to put forward six preferences – you must complete one seat in banking and finance and one in capital markets. Though these six preferences are theoretically locked in for the remainder of the training contract, “you can amend your preferences up to three times.” It's a well-received allocation system and trainees felt “a majority of your preferences are accommodated.” There's also the option of doing a split seat in a variety of departments; in litigation, for example, trainees can opt to spend half of their seat at penal reform charity The Howard League. One source reported: “It's an eye-opening experience that equips you with the vital skills for contentious work. Prisoners can call directly on a hotline and you have to decide on tactics like whether to plead guilty or not guilty to accusations.”
A separate process runs parallel for overseas seats: trainees rank four preferences for where they'd like to go. At the time of our interviews over 40 trainees had left Blighty for one of the firm's 34 offices dotted around Asia, the US, Europe and the Middle East. Sources praised the range of options on offer but noted that speaking a second language can be a double-edge sword. “In some cases it can help bolster your case for a certain seat," a source said, "but at the same time trainees can often find themselves restricted to going to the place where they speak the language.” So if you have a German A level you could well end up on a plane to Frankfurt. Client secondments are common too: at the time of our calls around 30 to 40 trainees were out on one.
Cleared for take-off
CC likes using cryptic lettering to designate its finance seats – “they're remnants of an old naming system that's used with affection.” Under the banking and finance umbrella, trainees can do a stint in finance A, E, H or X. A seat in finance A means working with movable assets – planes, ships and trains – or non-movable assets, for instance on infrastructure and power plant projects. It's a “tough seat” and “the training wheels are taken off early.” Sources reported getting stuck into drafting leases, liaising with clients and “taking charge of the check list of everything that needs to be done before an aircraft can take flight!” – to be clear, this doesn't mean trainees will be there in the cockpit checking pressure gauges. Project finance lawyers in the team have recently been busy advising EDF Energy on the development of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.
Finance H is “an interesting combination of derivatives and financial regulation – those two areas work together because of the increasing regulation of derivatives after the financial crash.” Trainees are supplied with “varied and sometimes odd work.” For instance, one source said, “I wrote a new financial regulation law for a Middle Eastern country," while another had been busy “completing bond issuances and securitisations.” Finance E, on the other hand, covers real estate finance work, while those with a penchant for general banking and insolvency matters should head to Finance X.
“I wrote a new financial regulation law for a Middle Eastern country."
Trainees have their pick of seven sub-teams within the corporate department including private funds, TMT, competition, private M&A and public M&A. Deals in public M&A are “logistical beasts” – huge, in other words. This provides “a very different experience to juggling multiple deals in finance,” according to one trainee. “I've only worked on one transaction, which covered 25 jurisdictions and had over 180 lawyers working on it.” Back in 2015/16 the corporate team advised brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev's shareholders on the business' £79 billion mega-merger with SABMiller. It also advised Sainsbury's on its takeover of the Home Retail Group (owners of Argos and Habitat).
Over in private funds, “the work is a little more remote,” as M&A takes a back seat. The team advises fund managers on the establishment, structuring and marketing of private investment funds, with a particular focus on pension funds, insurance funds and sovereign wealth. “Initially your work can be very prescriptive but once I'd found my feet I helped to amend limited partnership agreements,” an insider reported.
Bagging yourself a place in the telecoms, media and technology (TMT) subgroup is “considered very lucky,” as the team takes in just two or three trainees per rotation. "From my first week, I was in contact with clients directly and I was drafting letters," one source reported of their time on the team. Lawyers here work on IP and outsourcing, as well as tech M&A, sports law and media, and they recently advised Absolut Vodka on an advertising collaboration with Uber.
Clifford Chance has “absolute truckloads of capital markets lawyers” – over 100 in London – who cover debt and equity transactions, structured debt, high-yield debt and trusts. Theequity team is all about companies raising capital with IPOs. One trainee reported being involved in a period which they described as “the busiest we've ever been." They told us: "I worked on a huge deal for which I was doing all of the verification. It may be repetitive but I think verification gets a bad rep – it's definitely better than due diligence and once you've completed a full verification you know more about the company than the senior people on the deal!” Structured debt does not, as you may think, involve piling IOUs on top of each other but rather is all about securisitation, with work done in conjunction with departments like tax and derivatives. Trainees “normally work on three to four deals as part of small deal teams.”
After all those transactional seats, trainees described their time in disputes as “a breath of fresh air” and “a stark contrast to the rest of the firm's work.” Interviewees said “you do feel slightly removed from the stuff going on in court,” but we did hear accounts of trainees assisting with witness preparation and interviews. The international nature of the firm's clientele means trainees with language skills may reap the rewards of “a lot more direct client contact” and even the chance to travel. The team recently represented South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder, in an arbitration about the cancellation of a semi-submersible drilling platform. It also represented Kuwaiti energy company Bawabet Al Kuwait in proceedings against the Egyptian government for breaches of the Kuwait-Egypt bilateral investment treaty.
A lawyer for all seasons
Clifford Chance is the only magic circle firm based in Canary Wharf, where its office contains a seemingly never-ending list of perks and amenities. There's the newly-refurbished Budgie bar, a swimming pool, a coffee shop, a dry cleaners, gym, hairdressers, and sleeping pods described as “feeling a bit like a Travelodge.” Those sleeping pods and the availability of coffee on tap may set alarm bells ringing for those concerned about hours, but insiders assured us “trainees only very rarely use the sleeping pods. They're mainly for people suffering from jet lag or waiting on people from a different time zone.” Still, prospective trainees should expect to work long hours, as “that inevitably comes with a job at a leading global law firm.” Twelve-hour days and midnight finishes are frequent. One trainee recalled their time in a particulary grueling capital markets seat: "I was getting my seven hours' sleep but I wasn't doing a lot else outside work.” We also heard of a trainee who had heroically sacrificed their Christmas Eve and Boxing Day for work. "When it rains, it pours," said one wry source.
“Trainees only very rarely use the sleeping pods."
That's not to say that CC is a total Scrooge. “When it's quiet there isn't a culture of staying round to show face and the firm is very accommodating if you are unwell or just need a few days off.” Particularly long slogs are “rewarded with days off on lieu immediately,” and “often flowers and chocolates from the partners!” Sourcesalso emphasised that “it's unusual to have the pedal to the metal all day. There's no obligation to stay chained to your desk, so when it's quiet you can use the gym, go shopping or do a bit of sunbathing! The facilities here decrease the general annoyances in life.” Though one trainee did add that “nobody uses the hairdressers except partners with bad hair!” Having a fully kitted-out bar on the fifth floor lends itself naturally to impromptu drinks after work. The firm also has a “lobby area with a terrace that overlooks the wharf,” which hosts an annual summer party. “It's incredible what they provide. This year we had a whole retro gaming corner.”
While trainees are normally a close-knit and collaborative bunch, sources reported that "qualification is inevitably a stressful process," with some highlighting that “things can get quite political between trainees." As qualification looms second-years are asked to list their top two preferences of where they'd like to go. Some teams, like disputes, require an interview if you want to be in with a shout of qualifying there. In 2017 Clifford Chance retained 73 of its 98 qualifiers.
Trainees heaped praise on the comprehensive training they receive at the start of each seat.
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How to get a Clifford Chance training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 3 January 2018
Training contract deadline (2020): 3 January 2018
Interview with global head of people and talent Laura King
Chambers Student: How do you think Clifford Chance distinguishes itself from the rest of the magic circle?
Laura King: I think each of the firms has a slightly different global footprint although admittedly they are quite similar. We also have a slightly different practice area emphasis. We obviously have a long history in the financial services industry and that is reflected in how our practices have evolved over time. What stands out for me though is our long history of diversity, and in part that is because of the footprint of the firm – especially our presence in Asia and the Middle East. I think it makes it an interesting place to work because you get exposure to a long-standing history of a diverse population across a broad geographic spread. I think any one of the magic circle firms would be an outstanding training ground, so one thing you can do is ask yourself if you know people at the firm or if there is an alumni community you can contact to see if the firm is right for you.
CS: A lot of firms seem to be adopting a sector-based approach. Is that something that's important to CC's business model?
LK: I think all firms have sought to shift their matrix to a more sector-based approach because that’s what clients demand. They evaluate firms in terms of the expertise they can bring to their industry and they like the collective knowledge that a law firm has across a sector. Increasingly clients are seeking that insight from third-party suppliers so you see a lot of firms working hard to orient themselves to that aim. Although we've employed a sector-based approach to business for over a decade now, we are always conscious of the constant need to evolve – particularly within the changing tech sector. A nice thing about sectors is that because they cross practice areas and jurisdictions, you are able draw upon insight and work with people from across the entire firm.
CS: How has 2016/17 been for the firm as a business?
LK: It's been an interesting and challenging year – in large part because of the change in US president and Brexit. What has been central to our clients has been the regulatory change within the financial sector and that's obviously a time when they look to external advisers. Having such a strong regulatory practice spanning multiple jurisdictions has contributed hugely to our success and our ability to respond to clients' needs. But every department has felt the implications of changes in the financial sector – so we've also been busy in areas such as tax and litigation.
There's also been a tremendous amount of thought leadership around Brexit, particularly around changes and disruption in technology. Recently we've made considerable efforts to assist clients on how to digitise their businesses which has really drawn on our tech expertise but also pushed us to innovate new ways to meet clients' needs. When there's disruption and change, it's always a great time to be lawyer. Clients really need your help at that point. But while we are working hard to create long-term sustainable relationships with the clients of today we are also looking at the clients of the future.
CS: Linking back to the first question, do you think CC has a distinct culture?
LK: At the end of the day, it's the people at the firm who are constantly making the culture and changing it. Historically, we've had to be highly collaborative and a very broad church. We took a big bet on international expansion a long time ago and we were the first of the magic circle to do so. We have a long history of wanting to help clients across a range of jurisdictions, and we've grown both organically and through mergers so we have long had an understanding of what it's like to work in Hong Kong and Dubai, for example. That means we have to be collaborative across the world and that is at the core of the firm's culture. It's not unusual for a global email to go round saying: 'Has anyone come across X problem,' and it's amazing how many people will respond.
In addition, we have a global lockstep profit pool that encourages certain behaviours within the partnership and reflects our culture. I'm not incentivised to hoard work. There is always an attitude that work should flow between jurisdictions and individuals.
CS: How can a candidate really impress at interview?
LK: It's always more exciting to talk to someone who is enthusiastic and curious about what we do. We need to see genuine intellectual enthusiasm about questions like: 'How does a product get made in Malaysia and shipped all over the world?' And this enthusiasm needs to come across in an engaging way.
Clifford Chance LLP
10 Upper Bank Street,
- Partners 567
- Total trainees 200
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Over 30
- Graduate recruitment team: [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 80 vacancies
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 UCAS points at A level (or equivalent)
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 25 September 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start 3 January 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open 25 September 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 3 January 2018
- Open day deadline date: Please see the website, applications close two weeks before each open day
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,800
- Second-year salary: £50,500
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa GDL: £7,000 (outside of London), £8,000 (London) LPC: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
We work with multinationals, governments and regulatory bodies across five continents. Many of our deals are newsworthy. Often they demand the kind of knowledge that only international, cross-practice teams can provide.
For more information visit Clifford Chance Careers on Youtube.
Main areas of work
The fourth rotation might involve working in a different practice, a client secondment, a different team in one of our core areas, or an international assignment. We’ll discuss your options at each stage. Wherever possible, your training will reflect your interests and ambitions.
Before your training contract begins, you will need to complete one or more approved training courses in law. If you’re a law student, your training begins with the LPC (Legal Practice Course). All our trainees complete an accelerated seven-month course. If you studied a subject other than law, your training begins with the one year long GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) conversion course, followed by the LPC. Both courses are fully funded by Clifford Chance.
We offer a two-week summer vacation scheme for students in their penultimate year of study. A paid placement taking place in July, this will see you work with lawyers experienced in one of our practice areas. You’ll also have the support of a supervising lawyer and a trainee buddy.
Open days and first-year opportunities
We will be running two Springboard schemes in 2018. The first scheme will take place on the 25 to 29 June, while the second will take place on 16 to 20 July. Application closing date for both Springboard schemes is 3 January 2018.
We will be holding six Open Days during October, November and December 2017. For the majority of these, any student of any discipline from any year can attend. Applications will open on 25 September 2017. Consult our website for more details.
University law careers fairs 2017