Clifford Chance’s suite of virtual work experience aims to boost access to the profession. Hear from the people involved in their development about how these internships could become the future of early talent recruitment in the legal profession.
If you’ve found the task of procuring work experience at a law firm somewhat daunting, you are not alone. Competing for finite spaces on programmes to gain crucial work experience is no easy feat. But with the mainstream introduction of hybrid working, law firms are increasingly relying on technology as a tool to ensure that work experience programmes are more readily available and can reach a broader audience than ever before.
As Clifford Chance associate Nicole Kidney points out, "Ordinarily, students would be trying to go to open days or get onto vac schemes, but virtual internships offer a great alternative, as students aren’t constrained by financial or travel restrictions and are free to do the programme at their own pace."
As one of the premier law firms in London (and across the world, we might add), Clifford Chance is no stranger to using technology to bring its operations around the globe together. Its virtual doors are open to students worldwide via its free virtual legal internship programme, offering aspiring lawyers experience in a range of legal practice areas. Since launching in 2020, the internships have received over 100,000 sign ups and have expanded to cover business and human rights, climate change, sustainable finance cyber security, antitrust, and (the newest addition) structured asset backed real estate.
Since launching in 2020, the internships have received over 140,000 sign ups so far and have expanded to cover business and human rights, climate change, sustainable finance, cyber security, antitrust, structured asset-backed real estate, and risk and resilience (the newest addition).
The internships are packed with specialised content, designed by individuals from across Clifford Chance’s global network, including experts in Washington D.C., Milan, Düsseldorf, London, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore. Clifford Chance also partnered with Forage, an e-learning technology platform, and York University, which boasts specialist expertise in the area of Problem-Based Learning (PBL), to bring the internships to life.
The tasks in the internships are designed give you a foundational knowledge of the firm’s practice areas, how they work and help you understand the role of a trainee. "For trainees to thrive, it's essential that they are prepared for the complex work that they will undertake,” explains the firm's early talent acquisition manager, Toby Horner: “We have made sure the internships are anchored in our key strategic work and the areas where we are really adding value to our client relationships so they leave with insights that will add real value as they build the foundational knowledge that will underpin their careers.”
So if you’ve got your sights set on training at Clifford Chance, just how valuable is an internship? Well, as Horner explains, “applicants are nearly four times more likely to gain a training contract offer after completing one or more of our internships as a direct result of the insights they have gained and skills they have developed through this."
The Risk and Resilience Internships
The firm's newest internship, Risk and Resilience, looks at how insurance and reinsurance can help make the world more resistant to climate change. Collaborating with insurance and reinsurance company Swiss Re, the firm is offering an internship that exposes students to the perspectives of in-house and private practice legal teams. It's designed to help future lawyers develop practical skills in key areas including building a foundation and understanding of insurance and reinsurance, drafting and written communication skills, identifying and assessing ESG issues and exploring the variety of insurance and reinsurance policies available to cover climate related risk.
Cheng Li Yow, Partner: "The idea was born when we were sharing ideas about our mutual commitment and excitement around both Sustainability and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The internship focuses on risk and resilience, which was the perfect combination of both those things. We wanted to give as many aspiring lawyers as possible, an insight into working for a client such as Swiss Re and to understand the critical and fascinating role that (re)insurance plays in making our world more resilient to climate change. The platform breaks that down and does so in an interactive and interesting way."
The Structured Asset-Backed Real Estate (SABRE) Internships
"The structured asset-backed real estate internship is intended to provide students with an insight into the work of the group, together with a foundational understanding of the techniques and structures used in connection with structured, asset backed and real estate financing transactions and an illustration how such transactions affect the real economy and shapes the world in which we live,” explains associate Josh Dowdall.
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the internship? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Josh Dowdall, associate, London: Structured, Asset Backed and Real Estate Finance is an important source of funding that powers the real economy around us and shapes the world in which we live. Think of the spaces where we live, work, shop and holiday; think of the momentous decisions in our lives – the credit cards we use to pay for holidays and Christmas presents for example; and think of how businesses and governments have responded to the challenges and opportunities of the last decade – from the logistics boom that allows us to receive parcels, recommended to us based on patterns in our shopping habits collected and analysed in vast data warehouses, to the emergency loans used by businesses around the United Kingdom to survive the unprecedented shock of the Covid-19 lockdowns. All of this can be, and is, financed using structured, asset backed and real estate financing techniques. This internship is intended to provide students with an insight into this work.
Eitan Myers, associate, London: We've tailored the SABRE internships to allow people to work on typical trainee tasks across a broad range of different financing products and solutions which are supported by assets. Whether those assets are for example office buildings, hotels or possibly a credit card loan or a portfolio of loans. These internships are built around real work. They are a really amazing resource for anyone that is thinking about working in a commercial sphere.
The Antitrust Internships
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the internship? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Adrien Doerr, trainee, London: I'm currently a trainee in our corporate practice in London with a specific focus on antitrust. I've drawn from my own work and experiences in contributing to this internships which offers an authentic and comprehensive insight into life at a law firm. Particularly at an early stage of your educational journey, this will be an invaluable chance to gain some first-hand experience and at the same time find out just how international and interconnected our work is.
This content-rich internship offers between 12-14 hours of learning, giving you practical, hands-on experience of the types of tasks you can expect to work on as a trainee in this area.
It has been designed in collaboration with the University of East Anglia Law School and the prestigious Centre for Competition Policy (CCP), which produces high-quality research and policy advice on a broad range of competition-law-related topics and issues. You'll benefit from both the rich practical expertise of our antitrust team and also the academic and research work of CCP to introduce you to the fascinating world of competition law.
"I enjoyed this internship as I have learned a lot about competition law and the work that Clifford Chance does in this practice area. I enjoyed the variety of tasks and that some tasks were quite unique, such as writing a letter to a parliamentarian or reviewing the US antitrust laws." - Student from University of Warwick
"There were many different tasks each focussed on a new skill to develop. No need to have done antitrust law before, you can learn as you go with comprehensive tools and specific instructions provided. And I could do it in my own time in parallel of my studies." - Student, University of Leicester
The Business and Human Rights Internships
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the business and human rights internships? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, advocate, Warsaw: The human rights internship aims to show that human rights are a shield that citizens can use to protect themselves from abuses of state power and to define boundaries that states must not cross, as well as limits that the government must defend. Every lawyer should be aware of this. The task included in the internship is used to check whether the candidate is familiar with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and knows how to use it properly. We also assess each candidate’s ability to prepare and present legal arguments. The case we use concerns new technologies and freedom of speech, which we believe is an interesting topic for people considering a career in Law.
"The business and human rights internships has truly been the most effective and best way for me to learn quickly how Clifford Chance operates.” – Student, Regent’s University, London
"Very insightful. Gave me an opportunity at a time of uncertainty to improve my skills and better my chances at a legal career." – Student, University of Bristol
The Climate Change Internships
Chambers Student: Could you tell us more about the context of the climate change internships? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Umberto Penco Salvi, partner, Milan: Climate change and the transition to a low carbon economy are at the top of the political agenda. Governments and regulators are responding to the need to mobilise green, climate smart and environmentally friendly financing. These issues present a range of challenges for businesses, and innovation and technology are key to success in the future. This internship gives students exposure to the very nature of these challenges, but also encourages them to think about the various approaches and potential solutions to these problems. The tasks involve researching new climate-related laws and climate-related disclosure duties. We are also pleased to have just added an additional contract review task relating to emissions reduction.
"One of the best virtual internships I have come across, very realistic and informative to the reality of a trainee's work." – Student, University of Edinburgh
"As a biomedical engineer, I am particularly committed to contributing to the environment, so for this reason this program is very useful for me. Thank you Clifford Chance for launching such an outstanding program." – Student, Jashore University of Science and Technology, Bangladesh
"This was an exciting virtual experience programme that was very different from other law firms equivalent programmes in the sense that it introduced you to other aspects of legal advice. The climate impact on businesses is an aspect that I did not have the opportunity to engage with during other virtual experience programmes I completed." Student – University of Southampton
The Cyber Security Internships
CS: Could you tell us more about the context of the cyber security internships? What skills do students develop from completing it?
Frederic Mainka, senior associate, Düsseldorf: One of the cases is about a data leak which is a very realistic and current issue. In the video, the aim is to give students a very realistic insight into the work we do at the firm, and so the experts (who are the associates) brief candidates on the details of the case and then we tell the students to prepare an email or memo in response to the client’s question. The tasks take around six hours to complete for each internship and there’s no need to complete it in one sitting. Once they have completed the internship they are presented with a certificate from the Clifford Chance Academy, which they can reference on their CV.
Nicole Kidney: As I am part of the firm’s TMT (technology, media and telcom) practice, I was involved in preparing a cyber security task. The topic was on responding to an ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) dawn raid, which is a form of regulatory investigation that is conducted on a company which is suspected of not being compliant with data protection laws. The students are asked to engage directly with the "client", by researching the topic and providing some guidance by voicemail. We’ve presented this all through videos which helps makes it more personable. The students then receive a model answer from us that they can use to compare against their submission, as well an example voicemail, which I recorded.
Andrea Tuninetti, counsel, Milan: I lead the IP and data initiatives in Italy so that is why cyber security falls within my remit. The tasks are intended to give students an opportunity to go through the different stages of cyber security advisory work and also litigation by looking at three different scenarios that address various issues where cyber security is at the core of the legal analysis. For one of the tasks, I took care of framing the management of an incoming litigation, which covers the moment that a data breach is discovered until the party who suffered the data breach receives a warning letter from one of its customers. I presented the main facts of the case and tried to generate a bit of hype around the task. Students are then presented with guidelines on the kind of legal activity they have to do and given some tips on how to address the request of the client. Once the answer is submitted, which in my case was a short memorandum of advice, students are given a template answer via email to compare their answers.
"The Clifford Chance Virtual Internship was an incredible opportunity to both learn more about the firm and develop my experience in a specific area of law. I had always been interested in GDPR and data protection, but felt that I lacked basic knowledge - this experience has definitely helped me feel more confident." – Student, University of Cambridge
"The virtual internship on cybersecurity proved to be exceptionally interesting and fun, especially the ICO dawn raid task. I am very happy to have taken the chance to try this as I have learned many new things related to cybersecurity." – Student, King’s College London
As financial markets, regulators and banks are increasingly focused on the green economy and with building a financial system that is resilient against climate-related risks, this course is perfect for those who want to begin developing a set of skills that are in high demand. Students will learn all about environmental, social and governance (ESG), and how lawyers can advise clients to future-proof their businesses.
Molly Tredinnick, associate, Sydney: Our sustainable finance Global Virtual Internship offers practical insight into environmentally-linked financing and reflects one facet of Clifford Chance's diverse work in the ESG space.
Allison Tan, associate, Singapore: The lawyers of tomorrow need to ensure they understand and are able to advise clients on environmental, social and governance considerations. This internship is aimed at helping them start to develop these skills.
David Tsai, partner, Hong Kong: The tasks will all involve certain elements of sustainable financing. ESG linked financing is a rapidly developing field. Particularly with commitments made by the international community in treaties such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals, international finance products are increasingly becoming tied to sustainable development goals and broader ESG metrics that seek to align with these commitments. The tasks on this internship aim to provide you with an insight on sustainable financing from a transactional lawyer's perspective.
"Exceptional experience. Thoroughly enjoyed producing work that is realistic and comparable to a trainee's standard of work." - Student from university of York
"An amazing experience with videos that supported me all the way through. I learnt so much and feel really well informed on Sustainable Finance. This is a great opportunity that is amazingly open to all!" - Student from University of Leeds
Ready, Set, Lawyer
Another virtual work experience programme by Clifford Chance is called Ready, Set, Law. Aimed at students between the ages of 16 and 18 (but open to all), the programme introduces successful candidates to a range of topical legal issues. Those who attend are given the opportunity to put that learning into practice through a range of tasks, designed to replicate those tackled by trainee lawyers.
"Really enjoyed it, helped me to learn more about the different types of law and which ones interest me in particular." – High School Student
"I gained a lot of understanding of commercial law during this work experience and Clifford Chance provided me a chance to learn along the various sectors in law. My understanding is much greater than it was before, and it has given me a real insight into what law is really like." – High School Student
Taking a Chance on Opportunity
CS: What do students gain from these unique internships?
FM: If they are interested in a career in the legal sector, this is a great opportunity to get to know us as a firm and to get to know the kind of work we do on a day-to-day basis. I think it provides an excellent opportunity for candidates to pave their way into the firm, especially given the accessibility of the programme and the lack of physical or financial constraints. They get first-hand insight into life at the firm, so they get an idea of what an associate-trainee relationship will look like and it will open them up to learning how to identify the client’s needs and understand them better.
NK: It really offers them the opportunity to see the kind of work we do at the firm and the type of issues we deal with. It also gets students thinking about how our work interact with stories they read about in the news. In addition, they get the chance to improve skills such as presenting and drafting, which is the type of experience you’d gain from an in-person programme. The programme gives students interesting relevant experience to draw upon in an interview scenario.
AT: I think it’s a great way for students to see the work products that law firms usually deliver. In the academic setting, it isn’t exactly commonplace to be able to draft this kind of product or even to get in touch with current legal issues.
CS: Would the internship make as much of an impact on a candidate’s CV as a vacation scheme would? Are there any factors taken into consideration to differentiate or filter the candidates?
Toby Horner, early talent acquisition manager, London: The rationale behind setting this up was to democratise access to information, education and meaningful development opportunities. There’s over 45 hours of modular content on the internships. We believe this is the future of internships. It improves access to the profession allowing anyone, wherever they're based, at any stage of their journey to register. It also better prepares them to enter the profession understanding the realities of the role and having expectations that are genuinely reflective of the work and the industry.
AT: In Italy we don’t have a vacation scheme option. Our internships are generated in a slightly different manner but in my view, I think this is something that could bolster the position of an intern. They will gain a great level of experience and we would really value someone who has this kind of preparation under their belt.
CS: How does this specific internship interact with Clifford Chance’s wider efforts to improve social mobility among the ranks?
FM: We want to make our brand and our law firm available to a broader audience and I think that our Global Internship Programme gives students across the world the opportunity to get to know us. We don’t have any requirements or request prior experience from students.
NK: It’s a chance for more students from across the globe to engage with Clifford Chance in a way that they may not have been able to before. They can get real experience from wherever they are around the world and at a time that suits their schedules. I wish these internships were available when I was at that stage of my application!