For finance work from all over the world, take a chance on this magic “trailblazer.”
Clifford Chance training contract review 2024
When you’re on the hunt for a fierce finance firm, “Clifford Chance is one of the first names to come up.” As is often the case with London’s prestigious magic circle, this firm’s reputation preceded it among our interviewees. In fact, “I accepted my offer at the firm without doing any work experience here, because you wouldn’t turn down a firm with this reputation!” reasoned one. “Clifford Chance is a trailblazer,” exclaimed another. Just as one example, they happily recalled “getting involved in collecting data for green loans” – that’s a loan that’s used to fund environmentally sustainable projects.
Clifford Chance is a top firm in ESG, but that is just one example of many where the firm excels. It's accumulated dozens of impressive rankings in Chambers UK, most notably for its finance smarts, including corporate/M&A, capital markets, real estate finance, restructuring, and big-ticket banking and finance (for both borrowers and lenders). It’s also among the best in London for commercial and corporate litigation, competition, and construction, while its national rankings span the retail, energy and aviation sectors.
Its elite position in the UK is clear, but trainees were quick to point out that “the international work we have is just untouchable” too. The firm’s network of 33 offices spans six continents and scores more than 270 rankings in Chambers Global. And further exemplifying the firm’s strength in the market, its global revenue surpassed the £2 billion mark for the first time in 2023. Cor blimey!
“There’s a lot of excitement…”
Sticking with big numbers, all of the magic circle firms are known for having large trainee class sizes. Clifford Chance is the biggest of the bunch, recruiting up to 100 newbies each year into its London office. Our interviewees revelled in the opportunity to “meet a broad spectrum of people from different backgrounds,” as well as “rely on the large cohort for support.” But there’s also plenty of guidance from above and training sessions from day dot – “it’s a very hands-on training contract,” they said.
In other news, the firm is gearing up for an office move in 2027. It’s been based in Canary Wharf for the last 20 years, but it’s now set to make a return to the City, and trainees said “there’s a lot of excitement around that!” With the new site nestled nicely between the Barbican, St Paul’s and the buzz of Bank, we can see why trainees were jumping at the Chance to stick around! We will see ourselves out…
Instead of asking trainees to rank their seat preferences (which is the typical process at most firms), Clifford Chance has a bidding system for seat allocation. Trainees start out with 200 points which they can use to ‘bid’ for seats throughout their training contract. It’s up to them how many points to spend on their preferred seat options at each rotation. Just like any auction, the highest bid wins, though the firm also takes into account factors like class year and previous seats. We heard the more “bread-and-butter” seats (like the ones we’ve covered in this section are easier wins than more specialist teams, simply because they don’t accommodate as many trainees. As such, it can be “very hit or miss,” depending on how strategic you are with your points.
Among the pricier options are the international secondments, which were a big attraction to some of our interviewees. Destinations that frequently crop up include Paris, New York, Frankfurt, Brussels, Luxembourg, Singapore, Tokyo and Sydney. Take note: language skills are encouraged for certain destinations, so get refreshing on Duolingo! Client secondments are also up for grabs; example destinations include Amazon, Airbus, and the Howard League. There are also more specialised ‘partner-endorsed’ secondments that sit outside the bidding process – as the name suggests, a partner needs to endorse the proposal before the hopeful secondee goes through an interview process.
A popular seat amongst trainees is the SABRE (structured and asset-backed real estate) group, which falls under the global financial markets umbrella. The international aspect stood out to one interviewee, who told us, “I had clients from all over Europe that I was in contact with!” There are two sides to the seat – real estate finance and structured debt – and trainees can work on both. On the real estate finance side, trainees were tasked with the general management of matters – checking and updating checklists of conditions for deals. “If someone turns around and asks, ‘Where are we at with this?’, it’s very much a case of knowing where everything is and the next steps,” one insider explained. They also dabbled in first drafts of documents like precedent facility agreements (which outline conditions to be agreed before a loan is made). The structured debt side encompasses public and private deals. In these transactions, “you have ten or so key documents, and trainees take the initiative to review them.” The documents (and jargon) can be tricky to get to grips with, and they’re also quite lengthy – “like 500 pages long!” Big banks are the main clients, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. The group recently advised Wells Fargo in relation to the acquisition refinancing for KSL Capital Partners’ acquisition of Pig Hotels (a country hotel chain).
“I was always in contact with local counsel in many, many countries.”
For a “different finance experience,” there’s the derivatives and structured finance seat. This is capital markets territory, working with banks and investors – really “anyone that deals with finance!” Like SABRE, there are a lot of documents to work with here. But because of how complex the work is, trainees didn’t get as much drafting experience in this seat. Instead, day-to-day life revolved around research tasks. “Do not wait around for work to get handed to you,” insiders advised. “Be proactive in understanding how things work, and your team may be inclined to give you more responsibility.” This kind of work is notoriously jargon-heavy and complex, so one for the big finance boffins. In a recent matter, the team advised a commodities and energy firm on clearing arrangements (a type of trading agreement) during the 2022 energy crisis.
One “funky” seat trainees might go to is the finance X team. Despite sounding like the new Avengers, the group does general banking work, and is built around four areas: emerging markets, funds, infrastructure and leveraged finance. As “the biggest team at the firm,” trainees found that they were doing “minimal work” i.e. the lower-stakes stuff – tracking emails, adding comments to checklists, and proofreading documents and communications. However, those who built up responsibility got to draft some legal opinions. Initially, this sounded scary, but trainees confirmed that “the training is great and they are constantly providing templates and insights so you can take a first stab!” One interviewee found themselves getting cross-border experience with the emerging markets team: “I was always in contact with local counsel in many, many countries, and trainees need to take ownership of that.” On the borrower side, the firm recently represented Moto (the motorway service area operator) on an £835 million refinancing, and Jaguar Land Rover on loans totalling £2.01 billion.
A subbranch of finance is asset finance, which is not for the faint-hearted, according to sources. “It is hard work, as anything at Clifford Chance is,” admitted one trainee, whilst another claimed, “It was the busiest and most hectic seat I have done!” But this was countered by the fact that “you are working for one of the top teams that is doing the best work in the industry” – the firm is a global market leader in Chambers Global – “so it is really cool.” Trainees “dealt with a lot of writing and reviewing drafts and got involved in negotiating leases.” This team also has top rankings from Chambers UK in the aviation and rail sectors. In a recent aviation matter, the team advised Development Bank of Japan in connection with the financings of two Airbus aircraft to be leased to Wizz Air. On the rail side of things, it advised Rock Rail and Abrdn as sponsors on a multimillion-euro financing of new stock from Alstom (a rail manufacturer) to be rolled out on a German rail network.
“With the fast-paced nature of the work, the firm attracts a particular type of person,” mused one interviewee when thinking about firm culture. “People are here to work, but they make it as enjoyable as possible,”said another. While trainees acknowledged “an element of competitiveness,” they agreed that “everyone is super approachable, generally.” That bodes well, as the firm has a partner mentor scheme to get juniors interacting with more senior people at the firm.
Now, a big part of any training contract is the training (it's in the name!), and trainees were full of praise for the “well-organised” structured training on offer at Clifford Chance. “There are weekly trainings for a month or two that are then followed by FYI sessions, which are so good for a junior!” Some seats, particularly within the general finance team, roll out extra trainings. Clifford Chance also has an online academy, which was “a good resource for when I wasn’t busy.”
Trainees typically share offices with their supervisors. The firm’s hybrid work policy requires people to be in the office 50% of the week, and trainees can coordinate days with their supervisors. We heard that at the firm’s current digs there’s a gym, swimming pool, and squash courts. There’s also a dinner budget for anyone staying later than 7pm, which, from what we heard from trainees, was more often than not.
“Do not expect a breezy ‘day in the life of a trainee’ Instagram reel.”
“It is not an easy job,” trainees underlined, “so do not expect a breezy ‘day in the life of a trainee’ Instagram reel. Sometimes you will be like, ‘What the heck is going on?!’” Average workdays were between 9am until 7 or 8pm, before heading off (and sometimes logging back on until around 11pm). “When the market was quiet, I was going home at 6pm.” Comparatively, the busier periods could be tough, as this trainee attested: “I was getting three to four hours of sleep on average.” Derivatives and asset funds were said to be among the most challenging seats in this regard. But trainees felt the salary compensated them for the work they were putting in: “Clifford Chance is trying to match US firms and has also introduced a new bonus structure after qualification to match competitors and retain talent.”
On the approach to qualification, trainees speak to the teams they want to qualify into, and the graduate recruitment team chats through the process in a career development meeting. According to our sources, litigation was oversubscribed last year. In these instances, trainees can be expected to complete an interview and assessments. In 2023, the firm retained 73 of 97 qualifiers.
“Diversity and inclusivity at the graduate level is really amazing,” gushed one proud trainee. “My cohort has a big diverse culture, so it is clear Clifford Chance is hot on it!” However, “when looking at senior leadership, I don’t see diversity there, even though there are loads of senior associates from different backgrounds.” The firm has an array of affinity groups that lawyers can join. There is Enable (the disability network), ARCUS (the LGBTQ+ network), REACH (the racial equality and cultural heritage network), Accelerate (the gender network), a religious community and an armed forced network. “There are exciting talks and lunch-and-learns held by the affinity groups,” trainees detailed, “and people get excited about the topics.” Other general social events trainees highlighted included the annual summer party (“our last one was on a rooftop bar!”) and a trainee boat party at the end of their last seat. Bon voyage training contract!
Pro bono at Clifford Chance: Trainees praised the firm’s pro bono efforts, which includes asylum case work (there’s even a pro bono seat up for grabs!).
How to get a Clifford Chance training contract
- Training contract deadline (2025 and/or February 2026): 23 November 2023
- SPARK – first-year programme (June & July 2023): 2024
Global Virtual Internships
The first step to beginning your legal career with Clifford Chance begins before you even submit your application. The firm offers a range of resources to develop your skills and legal knowledge and to find out more about working at Clifford Chance.
The firm’s Global Virtual Internships are an essential resource for future lawyers interested in a career with Clifford Chance. You can better prepare yourself for the application process and increase your chances of success by completing their virtual internships. They have been carefully developed to help you hone skills that will make you more likely to secure a training contract with them.
The free virtual internships are accessible to anyone at anytime, anywhere in the world, and consist of over 50 hours of modular content. According to Early Talent Specialist Chloe Hatchett-Sparkes, the internships “are the first step into a career in law designed to upskill and inform future lawyers before many of them have the opportunity to walk through the door.” Hatchett-Sparkes explains that “the content has been created by leading experts from across the firm’s global network and clients. Last year we launched the first legal virtual work experience in collaboration with our clients, Swiss Re, to create a unique internship with rare exposure to topical matters from the joint perspective of in-house and private practice legal teams. The internships will not only expose you to international work in an innovative way, but will also enable you to develop the analytical abilities that will turn you into a leading lawyer of tomorrow.”
The internships are designed around the legal and commercial implications of risks relating to climate change, cyber security, business and human rights, sustainable finance, antitrust, insurance and structured asset-backed real estate. “They allow you to practise advising clients on resolving their challenges, protecting themselves against risks and future-proofing their businesses,” she explains.
Another worthwhile resource to gain essential insights into a career as a lawyer with Clifford Chance is its mix of bespoke events (free and open to everyone) on topics including commercial awareness, application tips, client relationships, and the importance of teamwork on complex cross-border transactions. The firm's in-person conferences ACCEPT, Black in law, ADAPT and ELEVATE, are held in their Canary Wharf office where you will have the chance to make in-person connections. The rest of their flagship events are hybrid in nature, allowing you to attend in a way that suits you either in person or virtually. Through these events you’ll have the opportunity to network with lawyers at every level of the firm and to learn more about Clifford Chance.
FIND OUT MORE: Global virtual internships, an interview with Clifford Chance.
Clifford Chance SPARK is an opportunity for exceptional first-year law students, second-year students of a four-year law degree or penultimate year non-law students. The programme is an introduction to the world of commercial law, where students will undertake both classroom-based learning and work shadowing in a practice area with support from a dedicated supervisor. There is also a variety of networking opportunities where you will meet representatives across the firm. After the scheme ends, candidates may be invited to apply for a place on a SPARK Training Contract assessment day.
When applying for the training contract, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what makes you unique, and to demonstrate the skills and perspectives you can bring to Clifford Chance. Early Talent Manager Toby Horner mentions the importance of grounding the skills you can bring "through your own work experience, hobbies and activities. It’s also about being curious and actively seeking information that will inform your career and demonstrating your knowledge of the industry and the role of a trainee. It’s also essential to show an understanding of the high-performing nature of this industry and willingness to commit to the standard of work needed to excel."
Toby Horner explains, "You don't need to have studied a certain degree or have attended a particular university. To succeed as a trainee, you need to be intellectually agile and creative in your approach to problem solving. You need to have an understanding of how to provide exceptional service to clients. It's crucial that you can build good relationships. You also need to be motivated and resilient. While this is a fulfilling and stimulating career, it is also rigorous and challenging. It's important to show that you can consistently perform to a high standard and that you are willing to take on new challenges as an opportunity for growth."
Clifford Chance requires applicants to complete a Watson Glaser test. The assessment lasts 30 minutes and features 40 problem-solving questions.
Candidates who are successful in their application will progress to an assessment day at the firm’s London office.
Individuals will be invited to a pre-assessment day webinar with the Early Talent Team and future trainees who have been successful in the interview process. This will provide you with the information and guidance you need to approach the day with confidence and belief in yourself.
Each day will consist of two interviews conducted by a partner and an associate, both assessing applicants’ commercial acumen. This will include discussions around the case study, commercial questions, and competency-based questions. You’ll also complete a written task and a group exercise. There’s time allocated before each interview to familiarise yourself with the materials. Toby Horner tells us the key is to “show you can understand and process information quickly and efficiently. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your potential and your genuine interest in commercial issues by engaging in meaningful conversation and demonstrating your ability to problem-solve and take on new challenges. We're looking for individuals who are resilient and can leverage challenging situations as an opportunity to grow and who can maintain the same high standard of excellence in every set of circumstances, on every matter.”
Clifford Chance LLP
10 Upper Bank Street,
We are one of the world's pre-eminent law firms, known for our broad spectrum of world class work and collegial team.
Our Firm, work, and people span jurisdictions, cultures, and languages. In a world where commercial success increasingly relies on globalisation, we offer clients a truly international perspective, and we offer our people a rewarding and stimulating career.
Our work has a real and meaningful impact, often demanding the kind of knowledge that only international, cross-practice teams can provide. With a formidable reputation in our field, organisations turn to us not just for legal expertise, but also for advice on their most critical business issues.
It’s collaborative, rigorous and inspiring. Our people are highly professional and resilient, with an entrepreneurial streak. And they are more than happy to share their expertise and knowledge. A common thread that runs through all of our six practice areas is a high performance, can-do culture. Partners are hands-on with the work, and newly qualified lawyers are expected to demonstrate leadership behaviour from a very early stage. Every single person is critical to the success of the team.
Life can have its ups and downs, but there is lots of support available. For example, as part of our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our employees, we have developed a unique and award-winning resilience programme for our Clifford Chance trainees.
Never stop growing
We commit to investing in you from the very start to build the best foundation for your future. In fact, the sheer variety of development opportunities on offer is remarkable. They can begin even before your first day. We have partnered with over 50 organisations and core Clifford Chance business teams to offer paid summer internships to give you the opportunity to develop useful non-legal skills such as marketing, product management, and business operations which will help you to excel. From there, you can take advantage of our award-winning induction, regular feedback sessions, and a sponsor at Partner level.
We embrace a learning culture, and the Clifford Chance Global Academy provides classroom and online training for all staff. However, some things can only be learned by experience, and over a quarter of our trainees are on secondment at any one time, gaining unique international seat experiences.
We have a comprehensive Responsible Business Strategy in place. For instance, we align our operations to contribute towards a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on those areas where we can make the greatest contribution, and we intend to continue to do so through to 2030.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Fund Finance (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 1)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 1)
- Employment: Employer (Band 2)
- Environment & Climate Change (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 2)
- Information Technology & Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Pensions (Band 4)
- Planning (Band 4)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: £150 million and above (Band 2)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Administrative & Public Law: Mainly Public Sector & Charities (Band 3)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (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 Products (Band 2)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 5)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining: International (Band 3)
- 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 5)
- Hotels & Leisure (Band 4)
- 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 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Secondaries (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 1)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: £500 million and above (Band 1)
- Projects (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Public International Law (Band 1)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 1)
- Retail: Corporate & Competition (Band 1)
- Sanctions (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 5)
- Telecommunications (Band 4)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)
Step in to Clifford Chance
Clifford Chance: application and hiring statistics 2022
Questions with... Laura Yeates, head of graduate recruitment
Clifford Chance: The Real Contract
The Real Contract: John MacLennon
The Real Contract: Emmanuel Goriola
The Real Contract: Maggie Zhao
The Real Contract: Lucy Johnson
The Real Contract: Hephzibah Adeosun
Questions with associate Uche Eseonu, managing partner Michael Bates and head of early talent Laura Yeates
The SPARK programme video:
The IGNITE programme:
The ACCESS programme:
Clifford Chance LIFT: