If you like your law at the top, there’s a chance you’ve heard of this one.
Clifford Chance training contract review 2022
“I went to Clifford Chance for the quality of people and its commitment to being a global, forward-thinking firm…” one of our trainee interviewees reflected. “The pool's not bad either.” The what? The pool. Clifford Chance has a 20x8-metre swimming pool in its main London office, which has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Canary Wharf. Apparently the gym does too. Nice. Add 32 international offices, a small outpost in Newcastle, magic circle status and dozens of rankings in Chambers UK and Chambers Global into the mix, and you’re beginning to get an idea of what Clifford Chance is all about.
This magic circle member is one of the most prestigious firms in the UK, with offices across the globe, billion-pound deals, a client list of global behemoths, and, it goes without saying, buckets of talent. The firm pulls in dozens of rankings from Chambers UK, 20 of which are top-tier. The majority of these fall under transactional areas such as banking and finance, capital markets, M&A and private equity, but the firm’s litigation and banking litigation teams are considered top-notch in London too.
In true magic circle style, trainee classes are large at Clifford Chance, with as many as 100 newbies joining the ranks every year. For our trainee sources, one big drawcard was “the firm’s reputation, obviously,” along with “the quality of training. They want to help you grow.” As part of that, trainees pointed to the opportunity to do an international secondment and split seat secondments during which they spend three months with the firm and three months with a client. “There are some in litigation, projects, finance and corporate [as well as ad hoc ones elsewhere], and it’s a great way for trainees to learn – to be the client,” sources enthused. For the last two years, the firm has also offered a small number of places on IGNITE – a tech-focused training programme which is separate from the main training contract
Trainees do four six-month seats. While there are no compulsory placements, sources noted that “you have to do a seat in one of the three core practice areas: finance, corporate or capital markets.” Clifford Chance uses a seat allocation algorithm to place trainees at each rotation, bestowing them with 200 points which they use to bid on seats throughout the training contract. “I would characterise it as a blind auction,” one mused; “you don’t know the price of any seats.” Although we did hear that certain international secondments are very valuable – “Singapore and Tokyo go for about 150 points!” Once trainees have made their bids, “a complex algorithm sorts it” in a utilitarian way that should “give rise to the most first choices for the most trainees.”
Finance fanatics are spoiled for choice at the firm, with six distinct finance seats on offer: structured and asset-backed real estate; regulatory/derivatives; capital markets; energy and infrastructure finance; restructuring; and general banking. As one of the firm’s biggest departments,a seat in banking (or FinanceX as it’s called within the firm) guarantees exposure to some mega matters on the borrower and lender side. Clients include HSBC, Jaguar and RBS, and the team here recently advised a telecoms company on a $4 billion bridge facility to support a multibillion-pound merger. On the lender side, Clifford Chance advised the lenders on the jumbo leveraged financing behind the £6.8 billion acquisition of a major UK supermarket. We heard from trainees in this seat who’d worked on funds, leveraged finance, and acquisitions. As with many transactional seats, it can fall to trainees to handle the logistical side of deals, as this source explained: “A lot of my time is project management: managing conditions precedent and getting the documents and comments seniors need.” However, it wasn’t all box ticking. “I’ve done some first drafts of documents,” one told us. “You’re given time to do it properly and you get feedback.”
“You’re emailing large numbers of people at banks, monitoring probably 250 to 300 emails a day.”
FinanceX isn’t the only seat with a fierce name – there’s also SABRE (structured and asset-backed real estate) which straddles real estate finance and structured finance. Trainees told us the team here was busy on the back of Brexit and the LIBOR transition (for the uninitiated, the LIBOR transition refers to the move by banks and financial companies to using risk-free rates instead of the London Interbank Offered Rate). For SABRE, it meant “lots of work, lots of deals, and a lot of demand for structured debt.” At the trainee level, it meant “drafting almost everything – the full suite of securitisation documents and lots of LIBOR provisions.” As with the other departments, SABRE has financial powerhouses on the books, like Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan and the Bank of America, which the firm recently advised on a securitised loan worth around half a billion pounds. Sources said that while the department was “receptive to giving you responsibilities like leading client calls if you want that,” there was also “lots of transaction management.” This was the case in the securitised debt and real estate seats too. “You’re emailing large numbers of people at banks,” sources said, “monitoring probably 250 to 300 emails a day and sending about 50 to 70 with attachments.” That’s definitely one to take care about the ‘reply all’ button.
While Clifford Chance is known for being a transactional powerhouse, its litigation and disputes resolution (LDR) practice isn’t sitting on the sidelines. But it should come as no surprise that much of the litigation here falls under the banking/finance and corporate/commercial banners. In the case of the former, Clifford Chance handles billions of pounds’ worth of disputes for the who’s who of financial institutions. Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche, HSBC and BNP Paribas are just some of the biggies on the client list. On the corporate and commercial side are Pfizer, Airbus, BT and the founder of software company Autonomy, Dr Mike Lynch, who the firm represented in a $5 billion M&A dispute with Hewlett-Packard (which now owns Autonomy). In this seat, trainees could also sample arbitration and regulatory investigations work. Unlike the transactional seats, “tasks have longer deadlines” in LDR. While some thought there was “lots of responsibility, with almost NQ-level tasks,” others said the seat involved a lot of “high-process tasks that are time-intensive: bundling, indexes…” Fortunately, trainees receive “regular emails with different work on offer. You can always find something interesting and volunteer for it.”
International secondments were a huge drawcard to the trainees at Clifford Chance. However, with COVID still stalking the globe, the firm had to adapt and offer an alternative of pro bono client secondments. “We do a lot of work with different charities,” sources explained, including Refugee Action (in 2020 but not currently in 2021), “which provides legal training to immigration advisers, who are allowed to advise on legal issues without a legal degree.” Sources said they were involved in “developing and delivering training courses” on topics like case-working skills. Sources also did research into subjects like “how housing law interacts with immigration law.” Other pro bono client secondments included human rights charity Reprieve and The Howard League for Penal Reform. “It’s a great secondment!” our sources enthused. “And a great option in a world where it’s hard to get out of the country.” We should point out that the firm has now brought back a number of its international secondments as travel restrictions ease.
Sources felt that diversity & inclusion“is something Clifford Chance prides itself on. It attracted me to the firm.” In this vein, the latest partner promotions didn’t escape trainees’ attention. In 2021, the firm promoted 29 new partners globally, 11 of which were women (a firm record). In addition, the firm has a target to have 40% female partners globally by 2030, so watch this space. In the London office, some noted representation differed by department. “In one group I noticed less diversity at partner level,” a newbie noted. “I didn't see many people looking like me in terms of race and social class.” However, they painted a different picture of SABRE, which “was very diverse! I never felt like I was out of place.”
At the junior end, a couple of trainees reflected on their first impressions during the LPC, where trainees-to-be study together. “I noticed that around half of our intake was BAME,” said one, while another told us:“When I started my LPC, I mentioned to my friends that it felt very Oxbridgey.” Roughly 29% of our survey respondents at Clifford Chance went to Oxbridge, which is above average for the firms we survey.However, trainees also reassured us that because “the cohort is quite big you can find your own group.”Sources described “an international trainee cohort, with people from different backgrounds.” For one interviewee who wanted to join a firm alongside “a diverse and big trainee intake, I got that vibe more from Clifford Chance than other similar firms. I felt comfortable.”
“You have to have ambition – that’s what drives the firm.”
At any magic circle firm, “hours are long at times.” Our survey showed that the average number of hours worked by trainees in the previous week was just over 50, but interviewees suggested that the “hours are so variable.” As exemplified by this source, “during my first few weeks in one team I was doing 17 billable hours a day. After that I was lucky if I was billing three hours a day for a month!” Sources said that “if you don’t have anything to do, you’re encouraged to log off at 6pm,” and were quick to share with us the advice they received from seniors: “There will be so many times where you do have to be available 24/7, so you must log off when you’re quiet.”
Trainees are well remunerated for their efforts, with a first-year salary of £48,000 and NQs joining on £100,000. "There’s some disparity with the US firms,” one pointed out, “but you can’t complain when you’re getting paid six figures!” And who says money can’t buy you happiness? In our survey, Clifford Chance scored highly and above average for general happiness compared to other firms.
However, several sources noted that while the “hours were expected,” what came as more of a surprise was the “high-pressure environment. Even when you’re doing something small it’s intense.” Trainees described a “commitment to excellence in your work” as a unifying theme of life at Clifford Chance. The culture“complements people who are like that too,” they added. “You have to have ambition – that’s what drives the firm.”
Interviewees clarified that “everyone is very hard-working, but also very friendly.” One shared: “I really appreciate how much time the partners make to attend non-matter-related calls and have general chit-chat.” Other sources said that when there isn’t a pandemic raging, “there are Christmas parties and summer parties, as well as practice area retreats.” These retreats typically take place in Europe, and we also heard of an annual ski trip that will hopefully take place in 2022 if travel rules allow. Sources also pointed out that firm conferences and trainingwere good opportunities to “meet people and have dinner and drinks.” Those who joined the firm pre-Covid felt that “in general, people are pretty good at involving trainees in impromptu things. It’s not quite like at other firms where everyone descends on a pub,” they continued, but there’s “a bar in the building, which people go to.”
Fancy your chances?
The firm’s informal qualification process involves trainees calling up the departments they’re interested in. Litigation, “which is always oversubscribed,” has a more formal process involving an application and interview. In 2021, the firm did not disclose its retention figures.
How to get a Clifford Chance training contract
Training contract deadline (2024): 09 December 2021
SPARK – first-year programme (June & July 2022): 10 February 2022
The first step in applying to everything Clifford Chance offers is an online application form. 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 a virtual event 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. Graduate head of talent Laura Yeates explains that “the more you can display an enthusiasm for problem solving, the better. Take interest in what's changing around you whether it's ESG, 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 complete their Global Virtual Internships and attend as many of their live events as possible (both free and open to everyone) to learn more about the firm before applying for a training contract.
The best candidates progress to an assessment day at the firm’s London office. Each day consists of one interview conducted by a partner and an associate, both assessing applicants' commercial acumen 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 can assimilate and digest information quickly and efficiently. You'll be given all the building blocks to demonstrate your potential but you need to be someone who as an authentic interest in commercial issues who can engage in meaningful conversation and demonstrate their passion for what they have achieved.”
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.
Global Virtual Internships
The firm’s Global Virtual internships are free and consist of over 25 hours of modular content and in Tikoo's view “represent the future of virtual work-experience.” Tikoo explains that “the content has been created by leading experts from across the firm’s global network. It will not only expose you to international work in a way that has never been done before, but also enable you to develop the analytical abilities that will turn you into a leading lawyer of tomorrow.”
According to Tikoo, the modules are designed around the legal and commercial implications of risks relating to climate change, cyber security, business and human rights, and sustainable finance. “They allow you to practise advising clients on how to protect themselves and deal with these risks responsibly,” Tikoo explains.
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.
Yeates 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.”
Tikoo tells us that 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),” Tikoo hints.
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UK Guide, 2021
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