CMS Cameron McKenna (London)
The firm is an unusual beast. The CMS network, formed in 1999, refers to a collective of independent European law firms operating under one banner. This gives CMS a quite unique European focus but also means it can lack cohesion. As one lawyer put it there’s a “big push for CMS
” but realistically the other offices are “not necessarily top-notch for assisting with big ticket London work
.” It now has 54 offices in 28 countries most recently expanding into Portugal,
Luxemburg, Albania and Dubai.
CMS went through a rather unsettling time during the credit crunch. 43 fee-earners were made redundant in 2009 and a third of September qualifiers that year had their NQ start dates deferred for three months without compensation. In order to prevent further redundancies, a flexible working scheme was introduced in 2010, involving the vast majority of staff either working shorter weeks or taking unpaid leave. And it worked, at the expense of turnover which fell 11% to £214m and profits per partner, which dipped by 18% to £453k, a far cry from the £650k partners were pocketing back in the glory days of 2007/08.
But the firm has gradually been getting back on track financially, no doubt helped by the decision to outsource the majority of its back office staff to Integreon at the start of 2011. For the most recent financials, revenue reached a high of £679.3m for 2012 - a 5.1% rise on 2010/11 when the firm reported turnover of £646.5m.
CMS have abandoned an element of performance related pay for partners in favour of pure lockstep, waving goodbye to its practice of sharing out around 5% of profits amongst star partners every year. The firm claims performance-based pay was divisive and costly to administer, and unmodified lockstep certainly fits in with the egalitarian partnership ethos. There were concerns that top performers who could have been better rewarded elsewhere would have jumped ship, but so far these seem to have come to nothing. And they're unlikely to jump ship now: the firm's strong focus on Central and Eastern Europe should help hedge it against a slower UK market.
CMS falls somewhat between two stools: it's not big enough to enjoy the reputation and profits of the Magic Circle or the chasing pack. And whilst insiders report that staff are a “genuinely decent bunch of down to earth people
" and praise of "good work, good colleagues [and] an open and unpretentious environment",
it can't offer the collegiality of smaller corporate firms like Travers Smith.
Grumblings about Mitre House (it's London office) were all too common:
the building is" totally pants...there are mouse traps everywhere and the lifts are borderline death traps
" and "oppressive"
. Although staff are buoyed by the news that “we will finally move out of the Orwellian granite block
” soon. The lease expires in 2015. Criticisms too for the I.T. support, or lack thereof, "I.T. is from the stone ages - unbelievably shambolic and out of date".
Whilst the firm won stacks of goodwill for doing all it could to keep its lawyers employed, things have been harder on support staff: "morale is low for support staff due to the outsourcing which has done much to damage internal and external perception."
The firm fell in the latter half of the Firm of the Year 2012
table, with an overall score of 61%.
Confusion is still rife over its branding: As one insider comments, "Are we CMS? CMS Cameron McKenna? No one really knows"
and another says "the CMS multi-firm structure confuses everyone outside the firm".
However, most staff seemed happy to come into work with people who are "supportive, knowledgeable, friendly"
and 'the social life and general attitude of most partners and associates make it a nice place to work".
The firm's award winning CSR and pro bono team also received praise with one insider commenting that the "general charity work is outstanding."
Overall, CMS seems to be staffed with an above average number of nice people, offers a decent work-life balance, and with its dominance over the European market, it's done well to survive the downturn and any more dips in the market to follow.