Not many firms can say that they've doubled in size (twice!) in ten years, but this commercial heavyweight can – and it has the appetite to do the same again.
A bonnie year for Clyde
What a difference a decade makes. Between 2005 and 2015 Clyde & Co saw its revenue balloon by 316% and its global office count skyrocket from 13 to 45. The financial crash barely made Clydes' sturdy hull wobble (in fact, while other firms were frantically plugging leaks, Clydes posted a near 18% revenue increase during that treacherous 2008/09 financial year). Unlike some of its large City competitors, Clydes steered clear of recession-vulnerable megadeals, and opted instead for a litigation-heavy tilt in core areas like insurance, shipping and aviation. But in recent years Clydes has been charting more transactional waters: a look at the firm's listing in Chambers UK shows that it has a blooming finance practice, as well as solid mid-market corporate and real estate groups. Increasing its transactional tonnage – and further branching out into sectors like energy, retail and trade – has proved a smart course to take: its 2015/16 turnover results were up by 13.1% to a record £447.3 million, marking the firm's 18th successive year of revenue growth.
So with an armada of offices across the UK, mainland Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region, you'd think that Clydes may want to take a bit of a rest, right? Well no, not if the last year is anything to go by. In October 2015, a £28.5 million merger with leading Scottish insurance firm Simpson & Marwick added another five offices to Clydes' network. “It's given a big boost to our casualty, healthcare and professional insurance dispute offerings,” a Londoner revealed. “We're now starting to see some link-ups between teams in London, Manchester and Scotland.” Next stop, Australia: Clydes beefed up its presence here when it gave a home to 30 lawyers from defunct insurance firm Lee & Lyons in February 2016. Further punch down under came through a host of lateral hires from Norton Rose Fulbright. Over in the States, a sixth US office sprung up in Miami, after Clydes acquired property liability and construction disputes shop Thornton Davis Fein in May. Come July, Clydes unveiled its first base in Germany, when it snapped up a five-strong team from Düsseldorf's Noerr. And with Clydes' senior partner James Burns telling the legal press that another decade-doubling-doubling feat isn't off the table, you can expect further office openings in Europe, North America and Latin America.
Back on English soil, you'll find Clydes offices in Guildford, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford. London and Manchester are currently the only offices to offer training contracts, with 69 based in the former and nine in the latter at the time of our calls. London-based trainees are expected to spend one seat in Guildford, but not all do: “The commute's a bit of a slog but the work is just as good,” was our trainees' mixed verdict. For more insight on what trainee life is like in both the Manchester and Guildford offices, head online. For those with more jet-setting ambitions, why not opt for Clydes' Middle East traineeship? It offers the chance to qualify as a UK solicitor while spending up to the entire training contract in one of Clydes' Middle East or North African offices with a view to qualifying there.
“Insurance remains our headline practice, but there are other areas to try too.”
There were, however, a few grumbles up north, as “the overseas seat allocation process seems to prioritise London-based trainees.” However, the firm told us that Manchester's trainees have just as much opportunity to complete a seat abroad. Trainees down south were also keen to offer suggestions for improvement. “It's a bit of an obscure allocation process,” said one. “I get the impression there are a few nods and winks involved in getting you to where you want to be.” The firm told us the current overseas options are San Francisco, Hong Kong, Dubai and Dar Es Salaam. Client secondments are also on offer in the UK.
Insurance accounts for either 20% or 45% of Clydes' work, depending on how you define 'insurance.' If you add up everything to do with insurance – including personal injury, professional negligence and shipping insurance – this comes to roughly 45% of Clydes' work; looking more narrowly, the firm's two main insurance departments – contentious insurance and corporate insurance – account for roughly 20% of overall turnover. Together they act on behalf of AIG, Allianz, Swiss Re, QBE, Zurich and many more leading insurers and reinsurers across the globe.
The corporate insurance team acts for these clients on M&A and capital raising deals, as well as staffing requirements, overseas development and closing books of business. These matters often extend far beyond UK shores: lawyers here recently acted for Bermuda-based White Mountains Insurance Group as it sold Sirius International Insurance Group to an arm of China Minsheng Investment for around $2.2 billion. The deal required regulatory advice covering the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. Trainees had advised on AIM placings and transfers of portfolios between insurers, and had also researched and prepared a lot of regulatory guidance for clients. “It can be challenging to get your head around as there are so many particularities in different jurisdictions,” but “a lot of digging into the handbooks helps.”
The contentious insurance team handles work ranging from political risk to online insurance, and as you'd expect from a true insurance heavyweight, “there are plenty of fascinating niche areas too.” Rookies “are welcome to move around and work for different people if your supervisor doesn't have much on. I've worked on cases concerning cyber-security, fine art, horse racing, you name it,” one insider revealed. Recently members defended QBE and AIG during a $400 million production loss insurance claim concerning maintenance failings on the Siri platform – an oil drilling rig in the Danish sector of the North Sea. Others helped Brit Underwriting dodge a £6 million payout to an insured party, on the basis that the insured did not disclose sufficient materials to validate its claim. In-depth research, bundling and filing are all common trainee responsibilities, and sources had also drafted witness statements, claim forms, settlement agreements and correspondence with courts.
“If you're looking for shipwrecks and pirates that's where you'll find it.”
There's a mix of contentious and non-contentious matters on offer in Clydes' employment seat. Clients here include The Financial Times, Etihad Airways and the Royal Bank of Canada, and in the past year lawyers have been busy helping Estée Lauder handle 15 Employment Tribunal claims, as well as an appeal to the EAT. On the non-contentious side lawyers have provided employment advice to metal trader Liberty during its takeover of collapsed steel giant Caparo, and assisted the European Commission with a report on employment conditions in the aviation sector. Trainees had noticed a 60:40 swing in favour of contentious work, so “you'll see a lot of employment tribunals from start to finish.” On these cases sources had helped the team by prepping bundles, completing disclosure tasks, and drafting witness statements and pleadings. The department also has sub-teams focusing on pensions and immigration, which “you get the chance to dip into every now and then.”
Collide & Co
Shipping – known as 'marine and international trade' at Clydes – is “definitely one of the more popular seats.” With contentious and non-contentious expertise in wet and dry shipping law, there's plenty of exciting work on offer. “Wet shipping is the glamour work,” trainees pointed out, “so if you're looking for shipwrecks and pirates that's where you'll find it.” Lawyers here have recently been engaged in a $30 million dispute related to the onboard fire and subsequent abandonment of cargo vessel 'Atlantik Confidence' off the coast of Oman. Still, “dry shipping brings up all sorts of fascinating contractual disputes, with different components addressed in locations worldwide.” On this front, Clydes has recently acted for Spanish chartering company Globalia during its dispute with Argentina's Fulton Shipping over the early termination of a time charter party (where a vessel is hired for a certain period of time). The department's work is highly international, so trainees here are likely to engage with overseas offices and foreign counsel to research specific points of law. Other trainee tasks include corresponding with opposing counsel, preparing bundles and attending trials.
Acting for both airlines and their insurers, Clydes' aviation department has a market-leading reputation for insured liability claims. It also advises aviation sector clients on regulatory, finance, corporate and commercial matters. Cases here often attract significant media coverage, with instructions ranging from lost baggage and damaged cargo claims all the way up to major losses and aircraft collisions. “We cover plenty of front-page matters, but partners are more likely to take those on,” one insider reported. “Trainees' work focuses more on high-volume smaller cases, and we'll often act as a client's first point of contact. Our role is to research specific points of law, speak with the insurers, seek their instruction and then draft reports which are reviewed by supervisors before being sent out to try and settle the claim.”
Throughout all of this, rookies have the support of supervisors and other team members. “There's a real culture of development at the firm,” sources agreed. “The learning development team is very active, and regularly seeks our opinions on what kind of training we'd find helpful.” All of Clydes' new starters – those on the Middle East programme included – kick off their training contracts with a three-week induction at the London office, where newbies are shown the ropes for all essential administrative tasks, and also complete their PSCs (professional skills courses). “I like that the firm brought us all together for that,” nodded one Mancunian. “We may be at the other end of the country, but we all know each other. Trainees aren't afraid to send one another silly things in the internal post!” From then on, “ties are kept strong through video-linked training sessions, which are held in conjunction with other offices.” Each seat also provides a few days' training at the start of each rotation, and trainees receive mid and end-of-seat reviews to keep them updated on their progress.
The firm circulates available NQ vacancies in May in the run-up to September qualification. Trainees list three preferences of where they'd like to go, submit their CV and are interviewed, if required. The HR team then does what it can to match qualifiers' career goals with available spots in departments. In 2016, 34 of 43qualifiers were kept on.
Clydes' London HQ is split between two buildings that sit next door to one another, Beaufort House (from legacy firm BLG, which Clydes merged with in 2011) and St Botolph Building. The latter is “very modern” with a striking cobalt blue exterior which brightens up the streets around Aldgate station. The former is “well, er, more historic...” and not quite as swanky as St Bots. Those in the capital highlighted a lively culture across the two sites. “We're not just a bunch of white male Oxbridge graduates,” one pointed out. “I have colleagues who grew up in Russia, China, Serbia; everybody mixes well and the firm does plenty to facilitate that.” Londoners can get to know their colleagues better every Thursday evening, as the firm hosts drinks in St Bot's top-floor bar. “They're always well attended,” we heard, “and there's no feeling that partners are partners. You get a free drink upon arrival, and the rest is pretty cheap.” For those who prefer to bond in a more competitive way, the office has its own tennis, hockey, netball and football teams.
On average, London's trainees found they were working between 9am and 6.30pm. “Some departments are more subject to fluctuations than others,” and there were a few tired yawns from trainees in corporate and some contentious sub-teams like regulatory, professional negligence and healthcare. However, “it rarely feels like a drag to be here,” said one Londoner. “There are always lots of cakes and biscuits going around, and everyone's very approachable!”
“Students interested in finding out more should drop us an email,” trainees advised. “We're a friendly and laid-back firm, where people aren't afraid to switch off for five minutes over a cup of tea. There are plenty of people who'd be happy to give you a tour of the office.”
How to get a Clyde & Co training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 31 December 2016
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2017
If you're looking to register your interest in Clydes early, apply for one of the firm's open days or its insight work experience programme.
The week-long insight work experience programme runs throughout the year. It's aimed at first year law students and penultimate year non-law students. Those who make it onto the programme shadow a lawyer in their department of choice and also receive guidance from a trainee mentor. To take part in the latest programme (which runs between December 5th and 9th 2016) apply here by 11th November 2016.
Clydes' open days, meanwhile, are for both law and non-law students at any stage of their degree. The day includes an overview of the firm, presentations, workshops, mingling opportunities with the current trainees and plenty of application tips. In 2017, these days will run on the 10th and 24th of February, and the 10th and 17th of March. Apply for a spot on one here.
The vac scheme and training contract application form
Clydes attracts around 1,000 applications for its vacation scheme each year, and roughly 2,000 for the training contract (of which there are between 40 and 50 on offer). The firm recruits around half of its trainees through the vac scheme.
The online application form, which is accompanied by a cover letter, contains “questions concerning your reasons for wanting to be a commercial solicitor, as well as your reasons for wanting to work for us,” our graduate recruitment sources revealed. “It's important to back all that up with relevant skills and experience, of course.”
Direct training contract applications
Around 200 direct training contract applicants make it to the firm's assessment day, which involves a drafting exercise, a pitch presentation and an interview with a partner. One current trainee recalled writing a client letter and an agreement for the drafting exercise, while for the presentation they'd grouped up with a few others to persuade a 'client panel' (comprising solicitors and members of the HR team) to choose Clydes over another firm.
According to our sources, the interview is “mainly focused on your application rather than being competency-based,” and also tests candidates' knowledge of the firm and certain topical issues.
Vac scheme route
Vacation scheme applicants who impress are invited to have an informal coffee and chat with a member of the graduate recruitment team so the firm “can hear more about your application and your reasons for wanting to do the vac scheme.” If the firm likes what it hears, you'll gain a place on one of Clydes' two-week schemes, which run in London, Manchester, Scotland and Dubai.
Attendees sit in a single department for the whole two weeks. Trainees mentioned that the first week “is spent getting to know the ins and outs of the department, and undertaking work,” while the second sees vac schemers complete the same drafting exercise and pitch as those set during the assessment day. There's also an interview with a member of the graduate recruitment panel (which is comprised of partners, legal directors and senior associates).
Social activities shift with each intake and in the past have included curry nights, rounders matches and a Jack the Ripper tour.
Clydes sets pretty high academic criteria, including an AAB at A level, a “strong” 2:1 degree, and a commendation for the GDL (if applicable) and LPC. In terms of personality, we were told that “you need to be confident, able to engage in a conversation and have sufficient knowledge of what's going on in the world. What you do outside of studying law is also important.”
Trainee life in Manchester and Guildford
The majority of Clyde & Co's starters may be based in London, but there's plenty of opportunity for trainees to cut their teeth in Guildford and Manchester too. Here's a little more info on both.
Clydes doesn't have any trainee permanently based in Guildford, but London-based trainees are expected to spend one seat in the Surrey town of Guildford, but not all do. It's a 35 to 40-minute train journey from London Waterloo, and a number of Clyde & Co trainees we spoke to reverse commute daily from the capital. Clapham Junction is a good locale for a London pad, given the eponymous station’s rail links. We were told those who live in London mainly do so to enjoy the capital’s social scene. That said, many Guildford-based trainees have told of their satisfaction with the town's pace of life over the years. As one told us: “It’s a nice alternative for people who’d like to do some seriously high-calibre work but don’t want to pull London hours.” And from another, who grew up in the area, we heard: “There’s a big lifestyle element to being in Guildford. It only takes me 15 minutes to get to work.”
A number of the firms covered in the Student Guide – Charles Russell Speechlys, Clyde & Co, Penningtons Manches and Stevens & Bolton – have offices in Guildford. If you’re looking for a career in commercial law, know that the firms in town do well with a particular type of client: those from outside of London who don’t want to pay London charge-out rates. Surrey is home to myriad wealthy individuals, so it’s common to get your hands on quite valuable matters. When it comes to the social life, Guildford has plenty of bars and loads of restaurants. We hear that The White House and The Keystone are two decent pubs worth checking out. That said, one source did say: “Guildford’s nightlife serves most needs pretty well, but I’d stop short of recommending Guildford for its night clubs…” Point taken.
Things are moving fast in Clydes' Manchester office. “When I first got here a lot of the work was to do with insurance and personal injury,” one Manc source reminisced. “But we then branched out into employment, pensions and real estate too. In the past few years defendant litigation has been a huge earner, with professional financial disputes a key focus, and in the past 12 months we've also started taking on more marine and aviation work too.”
It's an exciting time to be one of the four or five new starters taken on each year in Clydes' Northern hub, but there's still some work to be done: “Trainees in London have much wider variety of seats options,” noted a couple of interviewees, “and you sense that overseas seat and NQ jobs allocation prioritises London a little bit more.” Still, it's worth noting that the London office takes on a much larger contingent – between 30 and 40 trainees each year – so “it's inevitable there'll be a bit more on offer down South for now.”Unlike London, the Manchester office is all open plan, which trainees liked for providing “plenty of opportunities to get chatting to partners. Going over and saying hello is less intimidating than knocking on an office door.” The hours are also favourable. “You'll rarely see people here later than 6.30pm,” we heard, “so there are no complaints on that front.”
With all that time left over in the evening, Clydes' Manchester trainees have plenty of time to take in the city's nightlife. Read our Lawyering in the North West feature to find out more about what's on offer for young professionals in the city.
Clyde & Co LLP
The St. Botolph Building,
- Partners 350*
- Assistant solicitors 1,800*
- Trainees 100*
- *denotes worldwide figures
- Contact Graduate recruitment team, [email protected]
- Email [email protected]
- Website www.clydecograduates.com
- Method of application Online
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 45-50
- Applications pa 2,000
- % interviewed pa 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £36,000
- Second year: £38,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary (2016) £63,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification 77%
- Overseas offices Abu Dhabi, Atlanta, Beijing, Brisbane, Cape Town, Caracas, Chongqing, Dar es Salaam, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Madrid, Melbourne, Miami, Montreal, Nantes, New Jersey, New York, Newport Beach, Paris, Perth, Piraeus, Rio de Janeiro, Riyadh, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Toronto, Ulaanbaatar, Associated offices: Jakarta, Mumbai, New Delhi, Riyadh
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