Clifford Chance LLP - True Picture

Exit Canary Wharf tube and you're surrounded by the world's major banks, a scrolling stock market ticker and many, many suits – this is the world of Clifford Chance.

Take A Chance On Me

Magic circle firm Clifford Chance probably needs no introduction, but here’s one anyway: it’s a big City firm with a fancy for all things financial, sitting pretty as one of the world's top corporate law firms with over 30 overseas offices. If you try to scroll down its many rankings in Chambers Global, you’ll probably get RSI. In Chambers UK it comes out on top for banking and finance, capital markets, asset finance, energy, projects, financial services and international arbitration. Oh, and it’s got a pool.

While CC has a full-service practice it's in transactional areas where it shines brightest – and within that it's most well known for banking, finance and capital markets. Clients include all the major investment banks: HSBC, Deutsche Bank, RBS, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley... the list goes on. The firm's also ranked in Chambers UK's 'high end' category for corporate M&A and is recognised for a ton of other areas, chiefly representing major corporate clients like Pfizer, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Shell and EDF.

It's understandable then, that plenty of trainees picked CC for its “magic circle appeal” and “global outlook.”  But a notable amount were actually motivated to join by “softer factors” like “the fact that even as a vac schemer I could speak to partners freely and get coffee with them” and the firm's diverse trainee intake. Budding lawyers looking to measure Clifford Chance against the appeals of US firms in London should also know that the firm boosted its salaries in 2019 (along with the rest of the magic circle).

At the time of our calls, CC had recently instituted a new seat allocation system. Essentially, trainees are given 200 points which they can ‘spend’ on seats, whose worth depends on how high up on trainees’ lists of preferences they are. From those who had the system applied in their second year, the response was decidedly mixed, although some reasoned: “It’s been done with a view to becoming more transparent, and I don’t know if the outcome has been massively different to the previous system.” Some noted that “it’s taken out part of the human aspect and bases it on an algorithm, which I see as a positive,” while others felt that “there needs to be a level of thought going into it, so that we can tailor the training contract individually.” There are still interviews for overseas seats and super popular things like public policy. Banking and finance seats tend to take most trainees, followed by corporate, litigation and real estate.

Money, Money, Money

Trainees estimated that “80 to 90% of asset finance is focused on aviation.” Clients include aircraft leasing and financing companies SMBC Aviation, GE Capital Aviation and Goshawk Aviation, as well as Deutsche Bank, HSBC and ING. The team recently advised the Irish aviation subsidiary of the China Development Bank on a $700 million loan for 19 planes. Sources agreed that “because a lot of what we do is repeat transactions you’re expected to move very quickly.” One second-year recalled “running the second two-thirds of an aircraft security release with one paralegal for support.” Sources described this experience of being “thrown in right away” as “frightening but exciting.” Typical tasks include a healthy dose of bibling, as well as occasionally being able to draft sales and purchase agreements.

CC’s real estate finance team, which falls under the banking umbrella, has clients like Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Blackstone and Deutsche Bank on its books. The group recently advised Citi on the £420 million refinancing of the acquisition of the Grosvenor House Hotel in London and advised a club of international banks on a €2 billion loan secured by residential properties in Spain. Sources recalled working on “a fair amount of mortgage-backed security work – securitising loans and working on underlying real estate assets.” Day to day, trainees described “sending out documents to clients and other parties.”

The project finance team works with international clients including Shell, the European Investment Bank and several South African banks. The team recently advised on the £1.4 billion refinancing of the Galloper Wind Farm in the North Sea. “I had responsibility for drafting conditions precedent documents and sorting out their execution, as well as handling closing tasks,” one trainee told us. Like in asset finance, the expectations here are high and the work demanding. “You need to pick things up quickly and be on the ball all the time. You can phone clients for responses and take on parts of the matter yourself,” one source said. “I was pushed to rely on my own judgement.”

“It’s incredibly technical and complicated.”

Within capital markets trainees can do equity and structured debt seats. The firm recently acted as international counsel for Irish banking group PTSB on the securitisation of several loan portfolios totalling €1.37 billion. Other clients include Prudential, Credit Suisse and asset managers Investec. “The group covers bond issuances and structured debt,” trainees explained, adding: “CC does some of the most interesting work in the field – it’s incredibly technical and complicated.” They noted that the group shifts trainees between different associate supervisors “to avoid them latching onto trainees and making them do all their work.” Sources reflected that this leads to “a much broader experience – my supervisor said I’d had more experience than him by the end of my seat.”

Lay All Your Law On Me

Trainees have their pick of seven sub-teams within corporate including private funds, TMT, competition, financial institutions, private M&A and public M&A. CC has recently been advising on the massive joint venture between Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline to create a global healthcare company worth £9.8 billion. It also advised Coca-Cola on its acquisition of Costa for £3.9 billion. Other clients include Unilever, Lucozade and easyJet. Trainees recounted: “One day you’ll be doing standard proofreading of documents and the next you’ll be doing difficult research” – for example “for Brexit-related regulatory advice.” Other typical trainee tasks are due diligence and writing memos. Trainees had also been to court for court-based transfer schemes, “which I wasn’t even able to do in litigation.” Another source told us: “I was given responsibility for some of the administrative work streams: I helped set up a system for managing investor comments. There’s also a support group in Newcastle, which means you’re not stuck reviewing investor subscription forms late into the night.”

“You start off with more menial tasks.”

CC’s litigation seat covers commercial disputes, arbitration, private client, construction disputes and sports law. The group recently secured a victory for VB Football Assets in a dispute over the ownership of Blackpool FC, and counselled private equity firm Apax Partners in a €2 billion spat over the refinancing of a Greek telecoms company. Trainees came across “big banking cases, regulatory investigations and work for established clients, as well as more unusual cases for high net worth individuals.” The firm recently defended Deutsche Bank against an €800 million claim brought by a Dutch housing association over a derivatives transaction. It also represented entrepreneur Mike Lynch in a $5 billion dispute with Hewlett-Packard over alleged financial errors made when HP bought Lynch's software company Autonomy in 2011. We heard that “you start off with more menial tasks like bundling and graduate onto attending board meetings and going to court.” Some sources were more bothered by this than others, with one sharing: “Because the department is so big your responsibility is massively curtailed. But besides that the work is interesting, and you’re not boxed into working for one person, so you can orient yourself towards the work you’re interested in.” It's also possible to do a split seat and spend three months at a charity (e.g. Liberty, Reprieve, Mary Ward or the Howard League).

Most of the trainees we spoke to had undertaken an overseas seat, sometimes accompanied by a secondment on home soil. Because overseas offices are often smaller than CC’s home base, trainees agreed there’s usually a “step up” in responsibility – for example, sources reported “a lot less checking and proofreading.” When you go abroad “the firm takes care of everything and puts you up in a really nice apartment close to the office. You can focus on work and travelling at the weekend without worrying about the admin of moving countries.”

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (Some Work After Midnight)

A training contract with CC is more than likely to throw up some hair-raising hours. We heard from trainees who had experienced “a three or four-day run of working from 9am to 3am – you get sent home in a taxi, but you do end up quite sleep-deprived.” We heard of the odd all-nighter in transactional seats, whereas litigators found themselves working “more predictable” hours. One second-year reflected: “I’ve been able to have a work/life balance, but I've had to carve it out myself. If it’s quiet or I've done my work, I go and get on with my life.” Another shared: “There was a really horrible period of about two weeks when I wasn’t comfortable asking for people to cut me some slack, but now I’ll just ask for a half day.” Trainees agreed, however, that “your weekends are generally respected, which seems like a low bar, but it does help.” If it's any consolation, most of the magic circle firms demand similar of their trainees. We also heard that the firm’s impressive infrastructure “sweetens the deal” when it comes to late nights: CC's Canary Wharf office has a pool, a recently renovated gym, a dry cleaner and a canteen “where you can get a hot meal after 7pm.”

While trainee hours fit the typical conception of magic circle firms, sources said the culture of the firm was friendlier than you might expect. One interviewee reported: “People are friendly even when everyone’s under fire and I really admire that.” Another added: “The departments that do rough hours have a real camaraderie. They’re really invested in going out and celebrating together.” One second-year reflected: “The best way to describe it is as a stimulating environment – I’m constantly challenged here.” Interviewees were pleased to report that “the firm is good about not pitting trainees against each other. there’s a relaxed atmosphere despite work pressures.” There’s a trainee committee which gets a budget of £15,000 every six months for socials including things like “monthly afternoon teas, drinks and retreats.” There’s also a bar on the fifth floor which is a popular drinks spot on Thursdays and Fridays. 

Each trainee intake has a representative in graduate recruitment who they can reach out to with concerns, whether work-related or not. There’s also an anonymous helpline “for employees to discuss mental health issues or to vent to someone.” Sources generally agreed that “people in HR and in individual departments take a lot of care to make sure trainees are alright.” However, some raised concerns about a lack of resource allocation partners, citing issues when it comes to managing workloads. People also agreed that supervision and feedback “vary between supervisors and partners,” saying that “it can be luck of the draw whether people have the right management skills as it’s not something you’re taught. Having said that, everyone I’ve worked for has been good.” Others reflected: “From my experience people understand that if you’re getting burnt out that’s when mistakes get made.” We must also mention the wealth of training available: for example, each seat kicks off with a dedicated week or more of "very involved" training.

“People understand that if you’re getting burnt out that’s when mistakes get made.”

Sources also noticed that the firm is “really is diverse – you meet people from all over the world with different experiences, and I think this is a very inclusive place to work.” Another source told us: “The firm hires people specifically to improve diversity and I’m definitely happy with that. There’s room for improvement though as the firm’s ethos doesn’t always trickle down into actual policy or training.” There are several networks at the firm including Arcus and CC’s global LGBT+ network, as well as initiatives aimed at recruiting a diverse group of candidates. 

At the time of our interviews, trainees were “still trying to get their head around” the new NQ process which sees upcoming qualifiers speak to the teams they’re interested in qualifying into, and then “HR records your choices and in a big meeting with partners they decide who’ll be getting offers so that they don’t conflict.” Recent qualifiers found this process “more informal,” adding that “it allows teams to offer places much earlier, which is a big game changer.” In 2019 the firm retained 89 out of 98 qualifiers.

Training at Clifford Chance is no easy ride. A genuine interest in the world of banking, finance and corporate law is a must. If you've got that, the firm's structured training will lay an excellent foundation for your career.


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• Corporate/M&A

>> A-Z of firms

How to get a Clifford Chance training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020):  12 December 2019

Training contract deadline (2022): 12 December 2019

Open day dates (2019): 26 September 2019, 27 September 2019, 1 November 2019, 19 November 2019, 27 November 2019, 5 December 2019, 6 December 2019 (deadline two weeks before each open day)

ACCEPT – LGBT conference (21 November 2019): 10 November 2019

INTERFACE – the open day for STEM students (22 November 2019): 7 November 2019

SPARK – first-year programme (June & July 2020): 12 December 2019

Watch Clifford Chance's new video on its IGNITE tech traineeship

Watch Clifford Chance's video on its SPARK programme

Initial applications

The first step in applying to everything Clifford Chance offers is an online application form (there's a shortened version for one-off open days). Standing out from the crowd is crucial: graduate recruitment marketing manager Aasha Tikoo suggests the best way of doing so is “demonstrating the skills required to do well here through your own work experiences. These days it's less about a checklist of core competencies – though those still exist – and more about aligning to our core values of client service, collaboration and empathy for people from diverse backgrounds.” A trainee we spoke to who’d attended an open day noted “something that stood out was that the managing partner attended and gave a talk about inclusion, diversity and the importance of people feeling comfortable at the firm.”

Clifford Chance requires applicants to complete a Watson Glaser test. The assessment lasts 30 minutes and features 40 problem-solving questions. Global head of people and talent Laura King explains that “the more you can display an enthusiasm for problem solving, the better” throughout the application process. “Take interest in what's changing around you whether it's artificial intelligence, globalisation or another trend.” That's especially important if you’re applying to the firm’s tech-oriented ‘IGNITE’ training contract, the process for which is identical to the regular route.

It’s worth noting that Clifford Chance does not recruit on a rolling basis and does not review applications until after the deadline has passed. It is recommended that you apply to an open day or attend a careers event to to learn more about the firm before applying for a training contract.

Assessment day

The best candidates progress to an assessment day at the firm’s London office. Each day consists of two interviews conducted by panels of partners and associates, both assessing applicants' commercial skills through the use of a case study. There's time allocated before each interview to familiarise yourself with the materials. Tikoo tells us the key is to “show you understand Clifford Chance's business and are keen to train with us. We're looking for candidates who can engage in meaningful conversation and demonstrate their passion for particular topics.”

It's worth noting that neither panel sees candidates' CVs, so both the initial application and interview performances are taken into account when the firm hands out training contacts. Clifford Chance aims to let applicants know if they've been successful as soon as possible.

Vacation scheme

In 2020 there will be one two-week summer programme exclusively for penultimate year students; the application process is identical to that of the training contract. Tikoo stresses that “it's not vital at all to do a vacation scheme,” and the firm encourages prospective trainees to “apply for a vacation scheme if they really feel they need that additional exposure before making their mind up” – so if you know Clifford Chance is the firm for you, go straight for the training contract. During the vacation scheme, candidates get a trainee 'buddy' as well as a supervising lawyer who they'll shadow.

Trainee profile

Historically, Clifford Chance has taken “almost exactly 50/50” law to non-law graduates annually “with only ever slight variation.” Every year, a decent proportion of trainees come from Oxbridge, but more importantly the cohort comes from over 30 institutions including LSE, Lancaster, Essex, Warwick, Edinburgh and Southampton.

King tells us “applicants don't have to be from a certain background or have a certain personality: they have to be intellectually curious and want to work as part of diverse teams, which isn't always as easy as it sounds.” She encourages candidates to make their own interests clear: “If you're a classical guitarist, or really into cooking, we want you to bring those talents and passions with you. Don't check yourself at the door, bring your whole self to Clifford Chance.”

SPARK scheme

SPARK is an award-winning and unique opportunity to gain an unparalleled introduction to the world of commercial law, undertaking classroom-based learning alongside work shadowing in a practice area. You may even secure a training contract by the end of your first year of university (or second year if you are on a four-year degree).

Clifford Chance LLP

10 Upper Bank Street,
Canary Wharf,
E14 5JJ

  • Partners 567
  • Total trainees 200
  • UK offices London
  • Overseas offices Over 30
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruitment team: [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 90-100
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: August 2019
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 12 December 2019
  • Vacation scheme applications open: August 2019
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 12 December 2019
  • Open day deadline date: Please see the website, applications close two weeks before each open day
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £48,000
  • Second-year salary: £54,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £100,000
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £10,000  LPC: £10,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London

Firm profile

Clifford Chance is a leading global corporate law firm. But it’s not a typical one. Far from it. Life at the firm not only means doing the best work for exceptional clients, its graduates are also encouraged to be themselves. Clifford Chance looks for individuals, not for ‘typical lawyers’.
The firm is focused, but its people know how to have fun. They collaborate at every level which makes it a brilliant place to learn and get ahead.

Main areas of work

Cliford Chance offers legal expertise across a broad spectrum of commercial issues, and has a diverse mix of clients. This includes everyone from corporates from all commercial and industrial sectors, governments, regulators, trade bodies and not-for-profit organisations.

Training opportunities

Graduates don’t need a law degree to join Clifford Chance. About half of its trainees come from non-law backgrounds. The firm looks for people who are resilient, curious, creative and open to new opportunities.
Our two-year training contract will transform you from a talented beginner into a professional lawyer. It is based around four six-month rotations. Your four rotations will include seats in our core areas of Finance, Corporate and Capital Markets, plus one other. In addition to this, there are client secondments, international secondments and split-seat opportunities along the way.
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.

Vacation scheme

Summer vacation scheme: 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.

Other benefits

Benefits include free gym membership, pension scheme, on-site healthcare, private healthcare scheme, season ticket loan, cycle-to-work scheme, dental plan and more.

Open days and first-year opportunities

Clifford Chance SPARK: We will be running two of our award winning SPARK schemes in 2020. e application closing date for our first year SPARK schemes is 12 December 2019.

Open days: We will be holding seven Open Days before our application deadline of the 12 December 2019. In addition we will run ACCEPT (LGBT) and INTERFACE (STEM) one day conferences. Consult our website for more details.

University law careers fairs 2019

Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, City, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, King's College London, Kent, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London School of Economics, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary London, Sheffield, Southampton, Sussex, UEA, University College London, Warwick, York.

Social media

Twitter @CCGradsUK

Facebook CliffordChanceGrads

Instagram @cliffordchancecareers

LinkedIn clifford-chance-llp

Careers website

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: High-end Capabilities (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: High-end Capabilities (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 2)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Competition Law (Band 2)
    • Construction: Purchaser (Band 1)
    • Construction: Supplier (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 2)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Planning (Band 4)
    • Public International Law (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 4)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
    • Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 2)
    • Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
    • Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
    • Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 1)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Projects (Band 1)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 2)
    • Telecommunications (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)