Clifford Chance (London)
Clifford Chance, the product of a merger in 1987 between Coward Chance and Clifford Turner, used to be looked down on as the new kid on the block by the more established members of the Magic Circle. Not any more. Its brand is up there with the best in the world and its policy of rapid global expansion has made it a dominant name on the international market.
CC wasn't too shy during the worldwide economic collapse, making nearly 100 London lawyers redundant. And while the firm denied any formal partnership restructuring there were rumours of partners being given the elbow on the quiet. A rumour which CC did little to dispel when it approved plans to allow for the speedier exit of under-performing partners.
The firm has massive banking and finance practices, and there was just not enough work around in those fields, hence level turnover - about £1.2 billion - for a couple of years. In 2011/12 it was re-energised, turnover rising to £1.303bn and profits per equity partner at £1.078m. In 2014/15, things slipped a bit, with the firm blaming a weak euro and tough conditions at its three German offices as turnover dropped marginally by 0.7% from £1.36 billion in 2013/14 to £1.35 billion, while profits and PEP fell 2%, to £450 million and £1.12 respectively.
Freshfields and Linklaters et al may consider themselves slightly grander on the corporate finance front (and they've slightly higher partner profits to boot), but there is no denying that CC is still one of the top corporate firms in the world. Along with Allen & Overy it is the top finance firm in the City, and in securitisation it is pre-eminent.
The firm has the predictable raft of high profile clients, including the usual roster of banks - Santander, BNP Paribas, Citibank, HSBC, RBS etc. It is also one of the most avant garde of the big firms. CC was the first UK firm to sign up to the LawWorks and Bar Pro Bono Unit's joint agreement which ties it into doing a certain amount of work a year for free. It was the first big firm to pull off a merger with a major New York outfit. And it’s spearheading the growing campaign to replace the silk system for barristers with a 'kite mark' of quality which would be available to all lawyers. So if you fancy being in the vanguard of attempts to break down the divide between solicitors and their bewigged relations, it might be the place to go.
At the other end of the scale, trainees determined to avoid litigation can do so - as long as they take a week's course at Nottingham Law School and take part in the firm's pro bono scheme (at one of the local law centres with which CC is associated) for one evening a week for six months. Over the last few years the firm has slashed trainee numbers from 130, in the halcyon days of 2008, to 100, with those lucky enough to scoop up a training contract likely to be working harder for their supper,
And the hours are an inevitable downside to working for a firm the size of CC. Lawyers can feel as if they just lurch from huge transaction to huge transaction with no time to consolidate what they've learned. Complaints include "at first I thought they didn't realise how hard I was
working. Then it dawned on me that they didn't care
" and that the firm is "obsessed by billable hours and utilisation
". There are plenty of complaints about "stress
" and "exhaustion
". Long hours and huge deals, however, are features of life at all large firms, and there's no suggestion that CC is anything other than completely typical. Though it rankles associates when, as one put it, "everyone knows you could earn 50% more at a US firm
As far as pay is concerned, CC was the first of the top City firms to follow SJ Berwin's lead at the turn of the millennium and award its associates decent pay hikes (sparking a trend from which the whole City benefited, thank you very much). Back in the boom it then followed Allen & Overy's lead in hiking up pay yet further. No-one's going to complain about the figures on the right (especially after bands were unfrozen recently). And all assistants are eligible for bonuses, partly as a reward for hours spent on pro bono, training and knowledge development.
CC claims this puts its top performers amongst the highest paid City lawyers. The offices may be in Canary Wharf, but they cost a fortune and are stunning. There's an enormous gym, with ranks of the latest equipment and plasma screen TVs, subsidised personal trainers, masseurs and beauticians on hand, several restaurants (the lychee martinis in the bar are apparently a must) and a swimming pool with views over London (although some associates grumble that they never get the chance to use it, and if they do they “run the gauntlet of more work being placed on your desk when you get back
”. Plus, who wants to risk seeing their supervisor in Speedos?).
Working at a firm of this size brings the usual pros and cons. You will spend long hours as a small cog in a very big wheel, but then first class cash, support, training and work, a truly international reputation and opportunities to work abroad provide ample compensation. And, of course, there is that swimming pool... and we are reliably informed an impressive step instructor on Tuesdays.
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