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.
In more recent times, things have been going very well on the financial front.
In 2020/21, revenue increased for the sixth year running (albeit by only 1%) to £1.8 billion, while profit per equity partner rose by 8%, to £1.85 million.
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.
The hours are an inevitable downside to working for a firm the size of CC. 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, the money is "crap ... compared to the US firms." And perhaps work allocation could be better, as one lawyer notes that whilst "some are overloaded ... others are deathly quiet". For those burning the midnight oil, an associate says "proper support staff" are provided "through the 24-hour Document Production Unit" as well as "excellent CC club sandwich and chips delivered to your desk".
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, Clifford Chance was scored top of the Magic Circle for pay. Lawyers at CC were paid "too much to complain", said a junior solicitor.
Work-life balance did come in for a slating, however. As you would expect at a top City firm, putting in the hours is expected. "You feel the daggers of eyes as you try and sneak into the lifts before 6pm", said one solicitor. "Chasing money-hungry clients" meant catching them brought "pretty unreasonable expectations". But, said a colleague, US firms "are far worse" and "other Magic Circle firms are equally as bad". As for Silver Circle firms - they "are going belly up".
As for work colleagues, one associate says that the "dominance of the grey shoe brigade" is "living proof that the geeks shall inherit the earth". Another lawyers complains of "greedy partners" who are "totally out of touch with what is a decent lifestyle". However, others report of "nice and unpretentious" staff and that there are "fewer chippy sociopaths" than at other firms.
In the loos, "there's a sign above the flush handle saying 'depress gently'", divulged a non-fee-earner (M). "It's become a mantra for living".
The majority aren't so gloomy. Asked what kept them there, a Clifford Chance solicitor responded, "Top class work. It's awesome". Though he warned, "I have drunk too much kool aid."
"In London at least", said a senior solicitor at the firm, which came top of the Magic Circle for management, "senior management is visible, approachable and make every effort to clearly communicate the firm's strategy". "It feels like the reins on the old boys club are starting to fray", said another, citing the "Great move to give everyone xmas eve off this year".
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”). CC is, however, moving out - some staff are concerned the City replacement will be a step down.
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.
Here's what Clifford Chance lawyers had to say about their firm in the RollOnFriday Best Firms to Work At:
"Let's all get a life - we get paid amazing", said one lawyer. "The pay is good", agreed another, adding "It obviously doesn’t match US salaries but they all have higher billable hour targets. And from a big picture perspective, we’re paid very very well."
Though, pitched in a colleague, "It can be galling to see junior colleagues run off to US firms and suddenly be earning c.50% more than you when they have little idea of what they are doing".
"The brand name does it all", suggested a lawyer, though others demurred:
"CC’s training remains best in class", said one. But their were gripes about getting made up, with references to a "14 year track..." "Slaughters seem to routinely make partners out of 7PQEs. At CC, people slave away to 14PQE then get edged out. The old guard will never make way for new blood", moaned one.
"It is the deal with the devil I struck when I joined", summed up a CC lawyer. "The balance is not great but I mostly get my weekends and holidays and the partners in my team do seem to care about protecting them where possible. I assume it is better than at a US firm..."
"It’s a magic circle law firm so it’s worse than most other professions. And hours vary depending on different individuals and departments. But the firm does seem to be taking improving work/life balance seriously, and I have noticed it improve over the past few years", a colleague said.
Getting granular, "There’s a fair amount of 11pm-3am finishes, but also I'm off by 6 some days too. So 9pm is the middle by default", calculated a solicitor. One person considered themselves unable to describe their WLB: "I'm a funds lawyer. Not sure what I can expect as 'balance'".
Office and Amenities
“Pool, Gym, canteen, all superb” said staff, resulting in a great score this year - but the only firm with an in-house pool is moving out.
“Of course the one thing we all like and they're taking it away from us!” said a business services employee. “CC is noted for it's amazing facilities - well in four years time we will be like any other, or probably on a par with a silver circle firm!”
“My big worry with the firm is the proposed office move” said a partner. “We’ve hired a consultancy who are holding feedback sessions with people across the firm" they explained. "The consultants are talking about ‘solutions’ such as unallocated, interior facing offices. It should be bleeding obvious that nobody senior is going to schlep in to an unallocated office in the darkness, when they have a more comfortable office of their very own right by a window at home".
"The firm is run really well. And they have handled the pandemic, especially remote working and employee wellbeing during this time, excellently" was one verdict, and others agreed it was "decent". One good gripe, though, that "Partners make great use of flexwork, home office or remote working, or just straight up hitting the tennis court (often barely appearing in the office at all), but expect their associates to be available at their desks (in the office, of course) 24/7."
Like all firms, culture's taken a hit thanks to WFH. "It used to be quite a social environment, but ever since all those covid-measures, social live has died out and a new breed of 'unsocialised' junior associates has yet to learn what culture could look like..."
"Actually think CC is a great law firm with a culture of authenticity and inclusion", said a lawyer who was otherwise mixed on his firm. "Probably the highest proportion of normal people out of total people, compared to similar firms", suggested a colleague.