Peer beyond Clifford Chance's petite Stateside bases and you'll find a prodigious international organization.
IN the UK, where Clifford Chance originated as long ago as 1802 when the Napoleonic Wars hadn't even started, the firm is synonymous with prestige. It's one of the renowned 'magic circle' of elite outfits that all the best wannabe lawyers long to join. But banish any thoughts of quaint afternoon teas, tweed jackets and stiff upper lips. This is a modern global beast, not an English antique. Since its beginnings in Georgian London, the firm has expanded to massive proportions – nowadays it has 35 offices spread over 25 countries. In fact, CC has more top-tier Chambers Global rankings than any other firm, period.
With such a walloping presence on the global legal scene, it's unsurprising that associates in DC and New York emphasized the firm's “international appeal and the chance to work with lawyers around the world” as major draws. That said, the modest sizes of the US bases mean that “you get a small-practice, hands-on feel, along with all the benefits of being at a firm with an enormous network.” Summer associates usually spend two weeks in a foreign office – we heard from interviewees who'd jetted off to London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Beijing and Hong Kong.
At the time of our calls, there were 30 second and third-years in the New York office and ten in DC. In the Big Apple, around a third were litigators while most attorneys were to be found in the transactional department. The transactional team is divided into corporate, banking & finance or capital markets (though there are further subdivisions within each of these, like the insurance team, which is part of corporate). Tax, pensions & employment also had a sprinkling of associates. Just over half the DC juniors were in litigation.
In previous years, transactional juniors did three six-month rotations through corporate, banking and capital markets. However, “deals don't work in neat six month segments, and the ramp-up and ramp-down period for rotations meant they were losing utilization.” Now, a new system has been introduced whereby “for your first three years you're in a broad pool and not assigned to particular group. There's a non-attorney assignment manager who coordinates all the schedules.” A source noted that “toward the end of the second year you do start hedging toward one group." A New York litigation associate found that “in truth it's a little more organic. If you're interested in a specific case or working with a partner, then the open door policy means you can express interest.”
"I've gotten to do a lot of pretty cool things."
Sources in capital markets explained that “generally the group deals with securitization. A lot of the clients are large financial funds," and noted that "it's pretty impressive – these are people at the top of the market. Initially it's a little intimidating because you're playing with the big boys!” Juniors handle “the actual mechanics of closing a deal – making sure you have the signature pages and inputting comments on the purchase agreement.” As rookies progress, they'll often “get more drafting opportunities on prospectus supplements and resolutions for companies.” Over in corporate, young associates “sit in on meetings or conference calls and take the first stab at modifying an agreement to match our discussion.” Common tasks also include “taking firsts drafts of memos and ancillary documents.”
Meanwhile, litigators told us that they'd been staffed on white-collar investigations, civil litigation and international arbitrations. “I've gotten to do a lot of pretty cool things. Obviously doc review has been part of my work and will be in future, but I've had the chance to write memos, do legal research and meet the clients with a mid-level associate. I've also been involved with witness preparation and the logistics of trial preparation.” Like transactional associates, litigators get the chance to work on cross-border matters: “I've dealt with leftover litigation from the UK Libor scandal and done some work supporting the London office with that.”
Training & Development
Incoming associates have a couple of days of orientation in New York, after which “the training is a little different for transactional and litigation attorneys.” The former have “a lot of sessions throughout the year like lunchtime seminars from partners giving us an overview of different transactions.” In addition, “we also have quarterly or semi-annual training on legal writing.” One source explained that “transactional associates have more training because they're not assigned to a group yet, so they can get a bit of everything.” On the other hand, litigators have more intensive trainings less frequently. “We're still transitioning from a time when the firm was primarily corporate to now having a bigger litigation presence, so there aren't so many trainings geared towards litigation.”
"The reward for good work is more work!”
An interviewee in DC emphasized that “there's a strong system of informal feedback. Partners are very interested and invested in training the associates. They'll take five minutes to say 'this is why or how we do this' and create a lot of teachable moments.” Not all sources agreed. “It's pretty sink or swim,” declared a New Yorker. “You don't get much feedback unless it's negative and you've done something wrong. There's not a ton of 'oh you did a really good job!' although I've had some commendations from clients by email. A partner tells me regularly that the reward for good work is more work!”
"Windows are hard to find in Manhattan!”
There are far too many CC offices to rattle off here, but the list includes everywhere from Jakarta to Bucharest, Seoul to Perth. Stateside, associates' reports on their digs was mixed: "It's certainly not swanky – Davis Polk's office it is not!” First and second-years share internal offices which means that “we struggle a lot with the fact that there's not a lot of natural light. We spend so much time in them and it can feel a bit cave-like!” As one put it: “Anyone who's looked for an apartment here knows that windows are hard to find in Manhattan!” Despite these gripes, “there is an excellent cafeteria, which is the biggest perk.” Over in DC, “the offices are a little tired although the lobby and client areas are impressive. It could certainly use an update. We have these old, gray carpets...” Others looked on the bright side: “I have a big window and my own office, which New Yorkers do not!” Plus, “we asked for standing desks and they quickly obliged.”
Hours & Compensation
Instead of a set billing requirement there's an unofficial target of 2,000 hours, which is the bonus threshold. Some transactional interviewees mentioned that they “had concerns about not meeting it, because of a downtick in deal volume.” However, “there's an understanding that first and second-years don't really control their hours because they're pulled from a pool onto deals. Lots of people in my class didn't make it but it's not held against them.”
"They want us to work as much as we can."
Some litigators had a different story to tell. “They want us to work as much as we can and that means you're 'on' 24 hours a day and at weekends. I don't know anyone who's ever hit below 2,000 hours,” revealed a source. “We were told by a senior that we should be billing ten hours a day, six days a week. During that period, a lot of juniors were unhappy. The partners have made an effort to cut back on it and that's helped with morale. At the moment the hours are manageable, although there have been times when it wasn't at all.” Big Apple litigators commented that “we have a lot of face time. Working from home is not generally encouraged. I'd be uncomfortable leaving before 6.45pm. I find that part of the culture unpleasant. Some people are more open-minded though and are fine with you working from home.”
According to a litigator in DC, “I feel comfortable about taking vacation now, although I didn't at first. On a week to week basis, the unpredictability is a little difficult and your plans can be affected at the last minute, but people are good team players and will try to cover for you if they can. On average I leave about 8.30pm, but the latest I've stayed is 2am.” It's up and down for transactional folks too (“I can go for a week leaving at 6pm every day or at midnight every day”) although a source in DC asserted that “they're protective of our work/life balance because they want to build a team that will keep working for them. That said, in November and December I didn't have any work/life balance at all...”
There's no cap on pro bono hours, which can all be counted toward the billable total. According to interviewees, “they encourage you to do about 50 hours.” Juniors had “helped young homeless people to fill out forms for benefits” and worked with My Sisters' Place, a charity for victims of domestic violence. Others had taken on tax matters and “IP licensing issues for non-governmental organizations.”
Pro Bono Hours
Firm culture is “driven by the partners in each department,” reckoned associates. “In litigation, a lot of partners are personable and chummy – they'll stop by your office and tell you about their vacation.” The open door setup “fosters a collaborative environment and you don't feel like anyone is off limits.” Another added that “we work hard for sure, and work comes first, but there's a strong sense of camaraderie. I've become close with a lot of people I work with and consider them good friends which is wonderful. On the other hand when there's a bad egg or two, it's difficult because you're always around them – there's not a lot of space and not a lot of people as a buffer.”
"A lot of partners are personable and chummy."
When it comes to socializing, "we have a wonderful holiday party and organize welcome lunches or drinks for new associates and laterals. Sometimes partners will say 'hey let's go have some drinks.'” Sources in DC mentioned that “we recently had an all-day office retreat during which no billing was allowed. We went into the countryside in Virginia for a day of hiking, horse-riding, clay shooting, zip lining and cooking.” During the week it's common for “someone to send an email asking if anyone wants to grab a beer, but more often than not it falls through because of schedules. The thought is there though.”
“It would be wonderful if we had some more non-white and female partners,” said a junior ruefully. However, "the firm is definitely trying to improve diversity – the managing partner Evan Cohen is very active in promoting it." CC has a women's initiative, along with an LGBT committee, black and Latino lawyers' group and a Pacific Islander group. All of these host events, such as ethnic dance lessons and exhibitions for LGBT artists.
Hiring partner Nick Williams says that CC looks for “team players. We’re a traditional lockstep compensation firm, because that engenders a high level of cooperation between and amongst partners, and that means partners treat other partners with the greatest level of respect. This ethos permeates the entire firm and informs how partners treat associates and how associates treat other associates. So that’s the single most important factor.” Successful candidates also need “a willingness to work hard, to be friendly, to be supportive, to have sense of humor – that’s all critical. We know the people that we're hiring are very bright, that's a given, so things like the quality of their attitude are of critical importance.”
Strategy & Future
“We’ll see a lot of oil-related companies going bust, and we’re well positioned to get that work.”
Managing partner for the Americas Evan Cohen tells us that “we're expanding in a number of practices." The flourishing LatAm projects practice “not only continues to grow and be profitable, but it also helps us to increase our diversity in the office. We now have 25 to 30 fluent Spanish speaking attorneys.” Cohen cites US asset finance, structured finance and white-collar investigations as areas of growth. Restructuring work in Texas and Mexico will also boom as a result of the low price of oil: “We’ll see a lot of oil-related companies going bust, and we’re well positioned to get that work.”
Nick Williams, hiring partner, Clifford Chance
Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive for summer associates? Which campuses do you visit and how many summers do you take on?
Nick Williams: We visit a dozen to 15 highly ranked law schools, certainly Columbia, NYU, Harvard, Penn, Cornell and Virginia. We look at resumes from any law school, we're not snobbish about where a student goes to school, but if a candidate is from a so-called second tier school we'll probably be looking for high level of success, although we're looking for success regardless of the schools we draw from. We have around 20 summers. It's a great number, large enough to achieve critical mass but small enough that it's intimate and you can get to know every student quite well.
CA: What are you looking for in a candidate? What qualities? And what type of person thrives at the firm?
NW: A team player. We’re a traditional lockstep compensation firm, because that engenders a high level of cooperation between and amongst partners, and that means partners treat other partners with greatest level of respect. That ethos permeates the entire firm and informs how partners treat associates and how associates treat other associates. So that’s the single most important factor. Successful candidates also need a willingness to work hard, to be friendly, to be supportive, to have sense of humor – that’s all critical. We know the people that we're hiring are very bright, that's a given, so things like the quality of their attitude of critical importance.
CA: How important is foreign language ability?
NW: It's not critical, we don't require it but for our LatAm practice we do like to see some level of Spanish. It so happens that we tend to attract law students that have international experience of some sort whether they've worked overseas or spent time abroad. We look for mature students with a good grasp of the global nature of modern economy.
CA: What does the firm offer that is unique?
NW: Each of our summer associates is given the opportunity to go to one of our offices abroad for several weeks. We believe that gives them a chance to look at the firm from a different angle and that it's a way in which they can grasp the full breadth and depth of this premier global law firm.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting? Any initiatives in place?
NW: Absolutely, I'm not only the chairman of hiring committee, but also a member of the diversity committee. A global commitment to diversity including but not limited to materially augmenting the number of female partners in the next few years is something that we have here in US and elsewhere around the world.
Our commitment to diversity also manifested in our desire to attract lawyers from other diverse backgrounds including African American attorneys and Hispanic attorneys. We provide a full law school scholarship for a student at NYU, which is geared primarily to economically disadvantaged law students. We're very proud of that and we currently have three Clifford Chance scholars at NYU, one in each class!
CA: Any words of advice for summer associates?
NW: Students should never be afraid to ask questions about instructions for an assignment. We tell them on their first day that they shouldn't hesitate to ask questions of an associate or partner in order to understand the scope of a task. They won't be penalised in any way for clarifying the nature and substance of a particular instruction.
Clifford Chance US LLP
31 W 52nd Street,
- Head Office: London
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 33
- Worldwide revenue: $2,139,000,000
- Partners (US): 69
- Associates (US): 195
- Summer Salary2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
- Summers 2016: 26
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 26 offers, 25 acceptances
Main areas of work Banking and finance, capital markets, corporate/M&A, litigation and dispute resolution, real estate and tax, pensions and employment.
Firm profile Clifford Chance offers the opportunity to join a major US practice and the world’s leading international law firm. We are the first fully-integrated worldwide firm to provide coordinated legal advice to the world’s leading financial institutions, corporations and governments. The combination of a large US presence with unparalleled resources in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East makes us uniquely qualified to handle complex cross-border and domestic transactions, disputes and investigations.
• Number of 1st year associates: 27
• Number of 2nd year associates: 27
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016: American, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, St. John’s, Virginia
Summer associate profile:
Our summer program introduces students to our firm and our clients. All of our summer law clerks have the opportunity to spend two weeks working in one of our foreign offices.
Summer program components:
Each summer law clerk shares an office with a junior associate and is also assigned an associate mentor. Our training includes weekly seminars, practice group meetings and in-house and external training sessions. Feedback is given formally at a midsummer and final review meeting. Summer assignments are available from all of our practice areas and are coordinated by two assigning associates.