Over a quarter of Cleary Gottlieb's London office has quit in the last six months.

More than 26 lawyers have jumped ship. With approximately 100 solicitors in the office in total, the departures blow a gaping hole in the firm's City presence.

The Clexit (sorry) included the firm's head of non-contentious financial services regulation, Bob Penn, who left in the summer to rejoin Allen & Overy just two years after he departed from the Magic Circle firm. RollOnFriday understands that he took Cleary's entire financial regulatory team with him (A&O declined to comment). Another high-profile exit, by David Toube, followed. He headed Cleary's firm's European bank regulatory practice. But no more.

A source told RollOnFriday that remaining associates are "unhappy and slammed", and that, given the insane salaries on offer, now might be a good time to put in a CV. "Cleary are desperately interviewing to cover associate losses", said the insider.  

A spokesman for Cleary said, "We do not believe the information you received accurately reflects life at Cleary", and that "An 'unhappy and slammed' workforce, as has been suggested, is not consistent with the results of our annual engagement survey".

He conceded, "It is fair to say that this year we have had a higher concentration of departures than we normally do in any given year". But he said it reflected "in part, our cultural approach of allowing people who are moving on plenty of time to find their preferred choices of position – last year and the previous year we had fewer departures than we normally do".

"In our experience these things are cyclical and over the last three years (including the current year) our attrition is in line with with our experience over the years as well as attrition in the market generally."

Any new joiners should just be ready to do what it takes to "superplease" clients. And milk non-staff for all they're worth. 

Tip Off ROF


Lydia 19 October 18 10:14

nothing much changes. My 1988 diary shows similar events in firms. Oppenheimers was the one I was thinking about then

Anonymous 19 October 18 12:24

It’s a total sweatshop, the partners are greedy, and it’s going nowhere.


Avoid, despite the cash. 

Anonymous 19 October 18 14:46

Pretty amazing that a big NY firm like this would allow incompetent local partners in a satellite office to dilute their global brand. Presumably this kind of thing doesn’t go down well during the US recruiting season if it gets picked up by the US publications 

Anonymous 19 October 18 18:25

Yes, people are leaving because they are “unhappy and slammed”. But the deeper more fundamental problem is that these folks know they have very poor career prospects because they are being let down by a culture that rewards partner underperformance rather than confronting it. 

The problem in London is a subcutaneous layer of fat around the Cleary belly in the form of a number of UK partners with zero origination that don’t bill their drawings and are allergic to business development. These partners haven’t built a practice, so the office doesn’t grow, people don’t get promoted, and people leave. 

Anonymous 20 October 18 17:27

Cleary is good at marketing itself as very elite, pays a lot, looks good on CV, but doesn't promote, glass ceiling, and has a stuffy, unpleasant sweatshop vibe. Likewise, Skadden, Latham (I believe?) et al. don't have partnership opps either so any one year will have decent mid levels leaving as they realise nothing will happen.

US firms also look great on paper re the money, but given the additional cash is taxed to the hilt, plus the hours and pressure and city law's general attrition rate (average turnover of staff in most/many US shops) is 2-3 years - and those are some of the most resilient and psychotic 1% entering the profession in the first place. 

Anonymous 22 October 18 00:24

Underperforming (really?) associates are managed out, what then to do about blood sucking problem partners? 

Perhaps Gerstenzang needs to deploy his NY 'reverse headhunting' agent to whisper sweet nothings to certain #IDontReallyDoF***All UK partners

2PQE 22 October 18 12:56

People are leaving SPB London in droves too. Toxic culture and pathetic pay, only the old good boys get rewarded there

Anonymous 24 October 18 05:16

"people leaving in droves" has been happening for almost as long as lawyers have been bleating about being miserable.

So pretty much since the dawn of time.

Anonymous 09 January 19 15:36

Cleary London office have an underline problem with greedy and bullish partners as well as senior administrative directors. The management as a whole needs to change and respect associates and support staff in all areas. Directorship are absolutely out of their depth and are unable to make any clear decisions without holding the partners hands. Certain members of the partners (2006) qualified should take a look at themselves and realise how hard all staff work.,

Potential clients should seriously look at using this firm.

Anonymous 10 January 19 13:15

Cleary are driving out support staff in their droves with aggressive and bullying tactics and are involved in a number of ongoing lawsuits (all being kept very quiet)!  Remaining staff are feeling vulnerable and resentful, all of which does not reflect the shiny, expensive facade that is presented to clients and the outside world.  The ‘impressive’ new building hides a hostile and volatile environment for all except the chosen few (who know who they are).  The recent departure of Mr McDonald, a highly regarded Partner, shows the ignorance and incompetence of the Partnership and their greed and focus on themselves and not their employees.  Clients really should think about where their money is being spent!

Hibbert 16 January 19 13:41

My time at CGSH was joyful for a number of years. Working alongside the senior partners was a real good lifer experience. They now have one or two more junior partners, that done know the difference between their back sides and their elbows !

Anonymous 16 January 19 14:02

Gerstenzang should take a look at the London office partners and see exactly how they are performing. The partners seem more interested in making their office space their home and spending ridiculous amounts of money on lavish items, whilst us associates are beavering away and getting nowhere fast. 


David Toube I’m sure would say the say !

Anonymous 19 January 19 08:38

Well said Hibbert. Directorship are just children in this corporate environment and should return back to nursery.

Anonymous 21 January 19 09:01

Graduates should seriously consider joining this firm it you don’t want a good work life balance. You’ll be driven into the ground and tossed to one side.

Anonymous 02 February 19 22:24

Outrageous firm to work for. Directors are more than useless.

Micromanagent is a understatement. 

Stay clear.

Anonymous 06 February 19 14:25

Support staff being driven out by senior directors under the noses of the partnership.

Consideration should be given before joining Cleary London office.

fES 15 February 19 09:38

I left CGSH in 2012, so my remarks may be outdated somewhat, but I thoroughly enjoyed my 6 years with the firm. There were periods of challenging hours, as with all international law firms with a busy corporate/capital markets practice, and I would describe the management/administration aspects of the firm as "lean", meaning that Associates were subjected to a degree of sink or swim. However, if you were happy working independently and strong enough to know when to seek help and insist on additional resource, then I would describe the firm as quite liberating when compared to its peers (I had previously worked in a Magic Circle firm). There was also a culture of not overspecialising, which although not for everyone, was again quite liberating for those who enjoy a challenge and prefer not to operate within a comfort zone all the time. If you are considering CGSH, I would treat the remarks on this thread with some caution, and keep an open mind. There were/are some stellar lawyers in the London office, and although the UK-sourced work could improve, the work I had during my time at CGSH was top class. I left to move to a jurisdiction where CGSH is not, and there's plenty I miss about the firm.

Anonymous 15 February 19 15:16

Bring back Richard Watkins. Ridiculous decision to have let someone of his calibure go to a competitor. No wonder they’re not keeping the clients they used to.

The inexperience within the junior Partnership  is clear to see.

Anonymous 15 February 19 15:24

I left Clearys in 2013 and I can say that the American partners were great. The 2006 English qualified partners weren’t so supportive of staff and were seen as bullish and rude.

I would suggest to anyone thinking about joining this outfit to think twice including any new clients.

Anonymous 19 February 19 20:11

Poor old Clearys, looks as though they are experiencing a difficult time in this challenging market. Was once a reputable firm but they seem to have lost their sight since the departure of senior partners over the years.

Anonymous 22 February 19 09:47

I’m amazed at the short sightings of this firm. To have let the likes of McDonald, Ovenden and Penn depart in spirit ch a short space of time is disastrous for a firm once regarded as a leader in London in it’s field of work.






Anonymous 06 March 19 15:46

Partners really should review the Director positions if they want to improve on staff moral within the office.

Anonymous 11 March 19 07:47

I can’t brlieve what I’m reading about CGSH. I know things change within a coporate envitoment, but it’s sad to see a once leading Law firm now experiencing many difficulties with so many departures of great Laywers and support staff alike.

Its clear they need to rethink their strategy with the Directorship.

Anonymous 11 March 19 17:18

1997 - 2003 were the best years for the CGSH London office. Bring back Ash Qureshi, Shaun Goodman and Ed Greene.

Not forgetting Penny Cave and Melanie Driffill.

Anonymous 19 March 19 10:11

Staff morale currently at all time low following departures of well liked and hardworking staff.

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