One of the biggest names in corporate and financial law, CC isn't content with winning the game – it wants to change how everyone plays it.
£1.62 billion revenue. 32 offices worldwide. 200 trainees in London. Clifford Chance might look intimidating from the outside, but the mega-firm welcomes applicants from all walks of life. “We take our inclusion agenda very seriously,” global head of people and talent Laura King explains; “that's probably a product of our history.” The baby of the magic circle, CC was formed as recently as 1987 when two smaller London firms (which King suggests “weren't particularly establishment”) joined forces to take on the old elite.
That's enough history: what about the future? Clifford Chance recently launched 'delivery hubs' as part of its global innovation programme: three are based in London, dedicated to finance, litigation and real estate, and corporate. Trainees felt “the firm is investing in the right areas, looking at how to harness technology as law and business evolves.” That doesn't mean robo-lawyers are taking our jobs any time soon: instead a new internal tech academy “has led to excellent cross-jurisdiction and cross-office collaboration,” according to Laura King. The academy hit the headlines thanks to plans for all lawyers to get basic coding training. “It's not entirely clear how that knowledge will translate into what we do in certain areas,” some said, but interviewees were “optimistic about tighter global integration.” In summer 2018 Clifford Chance launched a dedicated 'lawtech' training contract to run alongside its usual programme: the firm is recruiting five extra trainees to essentially do a regular training contract with part of their time dedicated to FinTech, coding and AI.
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A career at Clifford Chance (Clifford Chance careers website)
A taste for the international united CC trainees, many of whom are linguists. “Clifford Chance struck me as particularly cosmopolitan among the magic circle in terms of the intake itself,” said one about their reasons for joining. “They do lots of cross-border work in almost every practice area.” Trainee here might not earn quite as much as US giants in London, but nobody complained. “It's about more than just the pay – we do work long hours but everyone's very supportive,” said one trainee; the firm's prestige in London also helped tip the balance.
Banking and finance makes up a sizeable chunk of CC's practice – Barclays, J.P. Morgan, RBS and Co-operative Bank are mainstay London clients – but it's not the whole picture. The firm earns top Chambers UK rankings in more than 20 practice areas, and in Chambers Global, well – it would probably be quicker to list what they're not ranked for. You can find a full list of Clifford Chance's international accolades at chambersandpartners.com.
“Clifford Chance struck me as particularly cosmopolitan among the magic circle.”
Before starting, trainees list six seat preferences (they can tinker with the list four times over the course of the training contract). At the time of our calls there were 70 or so trainees in capital markets and finance; around 30 in private equity and M&A; 15ish in disputes; and around ten in real estate. Teams like competition, financial regulation, tax, employment and TMT also take trainees. Veterans of the system recommended “you do a bit of wheeling and dealing for what you want. Lots of trainees talk to partners in departments they like the look of, so the partner puts a good word in for them with HR.” Everybody must complete one seat in banking and finance and another in capital markets. “The system's been broadly okay” was the majority view; “it's a big cohort so you might not get everything you want but you should get a couple of your real priorities.”
The X Factor
CC's finance seats are cryptically labelled A, X, E and H. If you're looking for general banking work, X marks the spot – trainees in that seat “worked on a variety of deals including high-yield bonds, loan combination deals and fundraisings.” The top names of the banking world float through here: Clifford Chance represented Bank of America, Deutsche and HSBC all in one go on the acquisition facilities and a revolving credit facility attached to the $17.9 billion acquisition of paediatric nutrition manufacturer Mead Johnson. As in most departments, cross-jurisdiction collaboration is par for the course. “As a trainee you're generally dealing with conditions precedent checklists,” we heard, “but I also got to draft some minor security documents and there's a good amount of client contact.”
The 'A' in finance A stands for Assets, but could also mean Aircraft as that's the department's main focus along with shipping and rail finance. “Most planes aren't owned by the airlines but by leasing companies,” insiders explained. “We help those companies purchase assets before renting them out.” In one example, CC represented SMBC when it sold 20 aircraft to Aircastle that then went on lease to 13 different airlines for $560 million. The seat “has a fearsome reputation because the deadlines are very tight but there's a real 'every man in the trenches' feel, I'm never left to it alone.” It may be “a seat notorious for lots of bibling” but finance A also offered chances for early drafting. “Four weeks in, my supervisor asked me to draft an SPA for a portfolio. I laughed, I thought he was joking,” one high-flying interviewee recalled.
“There's a real 'every man in the trenches' feel.”
Options in capital markets include equity transactions and structured debt. Debt issuers and underwriters both call on Clifford Chance's expertise: it was the latter for gold producer Polyus' $880 million IPO; the former (J.P. Morgan, in this example) during the £590 million establishment of the first Andorran covered bond programme. Trainees on such deals “draft ancillary documents, run the prospectuses and make sure the clients are kept up to date.” Lean deal structures are common here – an interviewee “worked on a transaction one-to-one with a partner. They're very big on trainee development, we get appropriate oversight but you're allowed to get on and learn.” Many thus suggested capital markets offered “the most responsibility of all the seats.”
Contrastingly, the appeal of real estate is “it's relatively small within Clifford Chance. What's good is you get a mix of development matters and buying or selling properties that are already up and running.” In one example of the latter, the team helped UBS with the £1 billion sale of its London HQ to a Hong-Kong based developer. Network Rail also called on the firm to help sell off its £1 billion commercial property portfolio. “We deal with everything from highbrow hotels to recycling centres, which keeps it fresh. The trainees know most about the properties because we're getting into all the documents and completing due diligence,” we heard. There's a lot of talking to other teams here, especially with the corporate department on real estate M&A.
Man v. Food
Trainees have their pick of seven sub-teams within corporate including private funds, TMT, competition, financial institutions, private M&A and public M&A. On every path “you're given menial tasks early but it's easy to progress to more complicated work.” CP checklists and data room management are staples of the initial trainee diet, which can build to meatier transaction management, contract review and negotiations with clients. Those range from financial institutions like holding company CYBG – which the firm represented in its massive £1.7 billion acquisition of Virgin Money – to businesses including Shell and McLaren. “Most deals have some international element” to them: for instance, Clifford Chance advised Hungryhouse's German owners when JustEat swallowed it up for £200 million. During smaller matters especially, opportunities are there to be seized: one source in private funds “got to carry out fund reviews, which is normally a job given to associates.”
Litigation has historically been Clifford Chance's most popular department among trainees and is “probably the most different to the rest of the firm.” A spell there can involve commercial disputes, arbitration, private client, construction disputes and sports law – trainees were recently involved in a widely publicised case surrounding the ownership of Blackpool Football Club. “There's more choice over what kind of matters you get on here,” trainees suggested. Many enjoyed being part of the infamous News of the World phone hacking dispute, declaring it “absolutely fascinating.” Beyond bundling there's “lots of researching to do” in every subsection, plus “the firm makes sure everyone gets to go to court at some point.” There's also a “big emphasis” on pro bono work: everybody we spoke to had done some, and it's possible to do a split seat and spend three months at a charity (e.g. Liberty, Reprieve, Mary Ward and the Howard League).
Mini or full client secondments are available in various departments, but CC's overseas seats are the most popular field trips. Prospective jetsetters submit four preferred destinations and a 250-word spiel on why they'd like to go there; foreign language speakers are assessed “to make sure you're not telling porkies about how good you are.” Most overseas offices are much smaller than the London hub and trainees did “similar work” abroad but “got a lot more responsibility – there's not really much junior assistance so you're working at the same level as a one or two years-qualified solicitor would in the UK.” International secondees enjoyed “doing more direct work on documents and running transactions with partners;” the paid-for local accommodation and salary uplift can't have hurt either. Hong Kong, Beijing, Paris and Frankfurt are just a few of the offices which regularly house trainees.
The London base is “a bit far removed from the City” in Canary Wharf, “but it's been done up recently and feels very glamorous.” It comes with all manner of perks from two kitchens on every floor and a full cafeteria to a gym, squash courts and swimming pool – no other magic circle firm has its own pool, we learnt from an envious Linklaters source. “It's nice to have everything within reach, especially so you can easily grab a coffee with friends if you're working late" – which might be more often than not. Average finish times varied wildly among our interviewees from 6.30pm to 11pm; the latter's more common in capital markets, which is “famous for having more severe hours.” In many cases we heard “you have to put in more hours if you want higher-level work. It's possible to avoid working late if you don't want to.” One source suggested they “were probably staying needlessly late a lot of the time. My supervisors encouraged me to balance my time better.”
“We get a lot of training on how to deal with stress.”
Clifford Chance is very hands-on with trainee development: the first week of every seat is dedicated to training, followed by ongoing modules. The latter “can be quite tricky to attend if you've got lots of commitments” but “it's very thorough. They help you learn where to look to find help, which is what's most important.” Trainees can also access the online Academy portal to sign up for additional courses, and get two reviews each seat to track their own progress. How helpful these are “varies by supervisor,” but sources had only good things to say about the firm's approach to mental health and wellbeing: “We get a lot of training on how to deal with stress and there's no stigma to using the resources available.”
The firm “doesn't feel stuffy” according to trainees, but how relaxed can a magic circler really be? “It's not Google: we're not sat on bean bags in flip-flops, but you're not in a suit all the time,” insiders explained. “The notion it's all ties and black shoes isn't applicable to CC at all. As long as you're prepared for a client visit at any moment you'll be fine.” Many singled out litigation as “more hierarchical” than other departments. Appetite for socialising likewise varies by team – banking is “super social, they're always rallying the troops for a drink.” Office bar The Budgie is a popular watering hole on Thursday and Friday nights; firm-wide bonding also comes via football competitions against clients and seasonal parties.
As part of a “new qualification system the firm's trialling,” fourth-seaters submit a list of ranked preferences of departments they'd like to join; at the same time, each group privately lists which trainees it wants. It's up to HR to join the dots. Litigation is the only group that interviews candidates and “insists you put them first if you want to join.” Generally speaking, sources felt “the system is simple and transparent, but it helps to have coffees with people in your department of choice to gauge your chances.” In 2018 81 of 95 qualifiers stayed on at CC.
In 2018 Clifford Chance acquired the legal services arm of collapsed construction giant Carillion in Newcastle, bringing 60 or so new paralegals into the fold.
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How to get a Clifford Chance training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 16 December 2018
Training contract deadline (2020): 16 December 2018
Open day dates (2018): 27 September 2018, 4 October 2018, 16 October 2018, 30 October 2018, 8 November 2018, 15 November 2018, 4 December 2018 (deadline two weeks before each open day)
ACCEPT – LGBT conference (22 November 2018): 9 November 2018
INTERFACE – the open day for STEM students (29 November 2018): 15 November 2018
SPARK – first-year programme (June & July 2019): 16 December 2018
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 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 new tech-oriented 'IGNITE' training contract, the process for which is identical to the regular route.
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.
In 2019 there will be one two-week summer programme exclusively for penultimate year students; the application process is identical to that of the training contract. Aasha Tikoo stresses that “it's not vital at all to do a vacation scheme: each is extremely competitive because of the myth that they're the only way in.” 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. Everybody rotates through two different practice areas to get a feel for a range of what the firm does; they get asked beforehand what they're interested in but there's no guarantee of a spot in a particular department. Candidates specify when they're applying whether they're also gunning for a training contract spot, with the vast majority obviously saying that they are.
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, unsurprisingly, but many other universities including LSE, Durham, Warwick, Edinburgh and Southampton were represented in recent cohorts.
Laura 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.”
Interview with global head of people and talent Laura King
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights of the last year at the firm?
Laura King: Our technology group has been pioneering a huge number of initiatives, refreshing all our learning platforms and bringing in a new set of online client tools. We've recently launched an internal tech academy which has led to excellent cross-jurisdiction and cross-practice group collaboration. We've also made real strides with advancing our strategy and grown our practice in the US. Already we had a wide range of Chambers USA rankings [which you can find on www.chambersandpartners.com] and we've really gone from strength to strength in helping to service our international clients.
I'm also really proud that we've had a fantastically diverse partnership round showing that our inclusion methods have really had an effect. Several ethnic minority and LGBT partners have been newly promoted, and there was a great deal of gender diversity. Having set an inclusion agenda we're excited to now see results.
CS: What sort of person thrives at Clifford Chance?
LK: We take our inclusion agenda very seriously. That's probably a product of our history as a firm – long ago Clifford Chance was the result of a series of small London firms who weren't very 'establishment' merging. Our ethos is subsequently that we want to be a broad church of personalities, and we think that's something to be proud of. Trainees here don't have to be from a certain background or have a certain personality; they have to be intellectually curious and want the best for our clients, and be happy to work in diverse teams which isn't always as easy as it sounds. The kind of person who enjoys that environment will do well here.
CS: What experiences can candidates get under their belts to make themselves attractive to the firm?
LK: The more you can display an intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for problem solving, the better. Take interest in what's changing around you whether it's artificial intelligence, globalisation or another trend, and consider what that's doing for our client's footprint. Enthusiasm and curiosity are the core traits for any student that will lead to them having a great interview with us.
CS: Last year we discussed the effect of Brexit – given the firm's international scope, how do you think developments like this and the US' increasingly isolationist policy will affect Clifford Chance in future?
LK: All this has made it a very exciting time to be in legal practice, and some of the latest regulation has meant clients need lawyers more than ever. Brexit is generating enormous amounts of work, and simple things like how clients label their products are requiring a significant legal rethink. There's a huge amount of work coming in for international arbitration and trade lawyers. In terms of uncertainty, clients look to us for reassurance.
CS: Many firms offer trainees the chance to do cross-jurisdiction and international work, what makes Clifford Chance distinctive in that sense?
LK: We're very lucky in that we can physically send trainees to other jurisdictions and are very keen to do so. Not only do we give them the chance to build their skills overseas, we've also got people coming from other jurisdictions to London, whether that's trainees from Hong Kong and Singapore or secondees from all over the world. This inter-office movement gives our lawyers the opportunity to learn directly from colleagues about what's happening elsewhere. How better could you learn about the situation on the ground in Korea than from someone who's seen it?
Not only is it helpful, but doing a seat overseas is tremendous fun. It's a really eye-opening experience you take with you for your whole career, and the relationships you build will prove invaluable.
CS: How do you think the looming shift to the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam will affect training contracts, if at all?
LK: It's hard to predict right now but from what we've seen I don't expect a sea change in how large firms structure their training contracts. The changes resulting from the SQE seem geared towards making trainees even more ready for client work and in many cases large firms like Clifford Chance are ahead of the curve. We've certainly not seen anything that suggests our scheme has a glaring gap. There may be some marginal adjustments to how we do things, such as ensuring trainees have the right level of time off for exams, but fundamentally we'll be providing them the broadest possible grounding in the law, as we always have.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
LK: Applicants and trainees spend a lot of time trying to fit into their firm of choice, but they should never forget what makes them special. Focus on what experiences you're bringing to the firm that will enrich everyone here. We always say to new trainees starting that we're as interested in you as you are in us. If you're a classical guitarist or you're really into cooking, we want you to bring those talents and passions in with you. Don't check yourself at the door, bring your whole self to your firm.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about the firm?
LK: They shouldn't be intimidated by the Clifford Chance name or process, everything is as much for them to learn that the firm is right for them as vice versa. As for those who've secured a training contract here, avail yourself of all the resources we provide whether it's our learning platforms or your colleagues.
Clifford Chance LLP
10 Upper Bank Street,
- Partners 567
- Total trainees 200
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Over 30
- Graduate recruitment team: [email protected]
- Careers website: careers.cliffordchance.com/london/home.html
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 90
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 August 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 16 December 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 August 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 16 December 2018
- Open day deadline date: Please see the website, applications close two weeks before each open day
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,600
- Second-year salary: £52,500
- Post-qualification salary: £91,000
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa GDL: £7,000 (outside of London), £8,000 (London) LPC: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
Main areas of work
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.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Open days: We will be holding seven open days during October, November and December 2018. For the majority of these, any student of any discipline from any year can attend.
Applications will open August 2018. Consult our website for more details.
University law careers fairs 2018
Careers website careers.cliffordchance.com
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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