Clifford Chance US LLP - The Inside View

With a British pedigree and global command behind them, Clifford Chance's US offices are looking to boost their domestic clout.

IF Clifford Chance were an actor it could be Tom Hiddleston: an elite British export with broad appeal and a track record of quality performances (let's forget that acceptance speech for a moment). But put him in a room with one of Manhattan's greats, say, Robert De Niro, and would he still steal the scene? And so it is with the actual Clifford Chance Stateside. “To be credible in the market you have to have domestic strength in a number of key areas, and we have that,” says Evan Cohen, regional managing partner for the Americas. Indeed, CC has robust corporate, finance and litigation practices in the US; credibility isn't lacking, but – for now – size is: “So we're looking to grow in corporate M&A and litigation,” Cohen tells us. “We've hired some laterals and promoted some talented associates, but we're still under-sized in comparison to the M&A powerhouses and big litigation teams at other New York firms.”

“We're looking to grow in corporate M&A and litigation.”

What could be better to support these plans than a prestigious reputation and vast global network? CC is one of London's exclusive 'magic circle' firms, a merry quintet of top-notch players traditionally known for their corporate and finance panache. But some are a tad more magical than the others, and CC has cast its spell on Chambers Global, which bestows more top rankings on the firm than any other. Incoming associates could see the advantages of signing up for junior life at CC, with a global grasp tightened on 23 countries across five continents. “You have CC and you have a traditionally US-centered firm. They both have a Brussels office, for example, but antitrust work here versus antitrust work there is on another scale: they're not equals.” And who says being smaller than the New York hotshots is necessarily a bad thing? “The deals are staffed leanly in comparison to other big firms in the city, so juniors get substantive work.”

Offices



Like its fellow 'magic circle' expats, CC has kept its US presence focused in New York and DC. At the time of our calls, 39 second and third-year associates were based in New York, while 13 called DC their home. The Big Apple base is “centrally located and right by the Rockefeller Center.” Juniors inhabit internal offices for two years – and share for the first – before graduating to their own window-adorned room. “But all of the windows are tinted so it's still too dark!” Let's hope the “wonderful and subsidized” cafeteria serves vitamin D-rich meals... Sources pointed to the office's REITs, derivatives, M&A and asset finance practices as particular areas of strength, and boasted: “We have one of the best Latin America practices in New York for sure.”

Likewise in DC: “Lat Am project finance work is a massive part of our practice, although our sanctions and export control expertise is also represented strongly.” Juniors here bragged of having their own offices from the get-go, but did admit that “it's a bit of a nightmare at the moment” due to a hefty renovation project that will connect CC with the building behind it. Still, the prospect of a new “state of the art lobby, gym and other facilities” kept interviewees happy, as did the bustling K Street location.

Strategy & Future



Leveraged finance has also been earmarked for growth alongside corporate M&A and litigation. In addition, the Trump administration will influence future domestic work, says Cohen: “First, in infrastructure. There's an opportunity for us to leverage our PPP expertise out of Europe, and to use our project finance expertise too.” Regulatory advice will also be in demand. “Regulations will change. Dodd-Frank will be revisited. There will be a lot of questions, and we have the only US/Europe regulatory practice on the ground in New York.”

“There's an opportunity to leverage our PPP expertise.”

Further afield, work pertaining to Latin America is booming: “We represented Goldman on Colombia's 4G toll roads [see work highlights, below] and now Goldman is looking into Paraguay and Argentina. The latter is on the up and is a focus for us in the Americas. We're seeing some infrastructure, finance and corporate M&A work there.”

The Work



In the Big Apple, the vast majority of second and third-year associates – almost 80% – could be found in CC's transactional group; only three juniors were litigators, while the rest were split between separate tax, real estate and ERISA groups.

The transactional group is divided into three arms: corporate, banking & finance, and capital markets. Those who join it are assigned to the 'transactional pool' and sample all three areas. “The idea is that you organically fall into the group you want to be in. We have around three years to decide, but have the option of formally joining a group before then too.” An assignment coordinator is on hand to help: “She monitors our schedules and makes sure the work is evenly distributed. But it's a two-way relationship; we express our interests and she tries to get us the assignments we want.”

“You organically fall into the group you want to be in.”

Banking work includes regulatory matters, “where you draft lots of disclosures,” as well as project finance deals: “We're establishing power plants in Guatemala, building airports in Peru and we've completed the first ever project bond in Colombia.” Over in capital markets, both debt and equity offerings are on the table. “The deals are big and doc-heavy, with many moving parts, so there's a lot of project management alongside drafting filings and registration statements.” Corporate covers the likes of fund formation, M&A and insurance deals. Juniors become masters of due diligence and “get to know each company very well – you're constantly liaising with them to research any issues.”

In DC, a handful of juniors could be found in the projects and capital markets groups, but most were litigators. Across the office “assignment is more organic,” especially for junior litigators, who are “given a great deal of latitude” to sample and no “ultimatums” about specializing. There's a mix of civil litigation; international arbitration; and regulatory & investigatory work. The latter spans white collar crime, FCPA sanctions, securities law and cyber security matters. “With sanctions work, you might be drafting OFAC license applications and analyzing transactions to report on issues – these are fourth-year tasks, but because of the size of our office, you get to do them earlier.” Juniors in civil lit and international arbitration must hone their drafting skills while on the move: “Our associates travel early and travel often.” We heard of one associate visiting “Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Spain and Paris – all in the past two and a half months!” Other duties include preparing for hearings, drafting memorials and assisting with client pitches.

Training & Development



CC is “huge on formal training,” enthused sources in the transactional pool. “During the first four months there are bi-weekly trainings that cover all the groups. They give you booklets to keep, which are very helpful!” Litigators don't get the same introductory blast of training, as “they expect you to learn a lot through experience.” However, litigators and deal-doers alike participate in the Clifford Chance Academy, which runs class-tailored sessions throughout the year.

Juniors meet with their assigned career development partner and the head of their practice group to discuss their annual reviews, which consist of feedback provided by colleagues. “We discuss the class-based goals that we set at the start of the year and whether we think we met them. To get the most out of the process you have to be open and make sure you ask all the questions you want to ask.”

Culture



“We're not trying to be a typical New York firm,” juniors insisted. “We're intentionally operating a different model: here the partners are not directly competing against one another and all of the groups share profits.” As a result, “there's a strong sense of community. We share the work and we get along – no one gets jealous.”

“We're not trying to be a typical New York firm.”

With all this collegiality flying around, the social life is pretty good. In New York, the associates' network hosts a monthly happy hour in the office, usually with a theme to abide by: “For Hallowe'en we dressed up as Where's Waldo!” These are accompanied by more formal dos, like an office-wide holiday party. “These events are held to keep us connected and promote interaction. The partners, the seniors and the juniors all enjoy the drinks and laugh a lot.” The DC office is, however, quieter in comparison.

The atmosphere may be warm and fuzzy at times, but the approach to the work itself is much more hard-nosed. “We're very practical people and it's not a very esoteric firm: we don't like to spend hours pontificating. Clients come to us for very real-world solutions delivered at a very real-world deadline.”

Hours & Compensation



There's no formal billing requirement, but sources were conscious of an unofficial 2,000 hours target. “For the first two years you still get a bonus even if you don't hit it, as they acknowledge you have less control over your workload.” After that, the policy isn't “super obvious.” Officially, CC takes “a holistic approach, and considers your pro bono work, firm activities – like BD – and your reviews.” However, many felt that hours were still the most important factor in determining bonus eligibility.

“It's like that Rihanna song: work, work, work, work, work!”

Luckily, most deemed the target “very achievable,” as life at CC “is like that Rihanna song: work, work, work, work, work!” If a deal is closing “you can be working 12 hours a day, every day, for several weeks.” When things quieten down 10am starts and 8pm exits are pretty standard. Litigators can also work some “crazy hours” thanks to the amount of travel in their schedules, as well as the need to accommodate other time zones: “When we're working with China we stagger our working days to cover the full 24-hour period.” Ouch. To reward their hard graft, CC gives its lawyers a $400 certificate if they bill 250 hours in a month: “It's meant to go toward an evening of entertainment with your family or whoever – the people you don't see enough!”

Pro Bono



There's no cap on pro bono hours and all CC lawyers are encouraged to devote at least 50 hours to this noble pursuit each year. “It's actually more of an expectation,” juniors clarified, “and our managing partner likes to see it on everyone's time sheet.”

It's easy to rack up those hours: an intranet page and two designated pro bono partners disseminate projects “constantly,” while “individual associates and partners will have their own projects that they'll ask for help with.” New Yorkers had been devoting their time to domestic violence charity My Sisters' Place, while their DC counterparts had poured their efforts into the Children's Law Center. In addition, “the cool thing about CC is that you can do pro bono worldwide; there might be an organization in the UK you're interested in, or an NGO in India, for example.”

Pro Bono Hours

  • For all US attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Diversity



“As a global firm we do attract and need a more diverse group of people,” sources declared, pointing to a promising representation of ethnic minority and LGBT associates. CC's global-wide LGBT network, Arcus, is especially active: the group recently organized Pride art exhibitions in both DC and New York, as well as several international offices.

“We've just instituted more flexible maternity leave policies.”

However, “we don't have enough female partners,” moaned juniors. “This has been acknowledged, but we need to put in place more measures to support women, like childcare facilities.” Regional managing partner for the Americas, Evan Cohen, says: “I am personally committed to including more women in the partnership and supporting female associates; I have four daughters and I want them to have the same opportunities. We've just instituted more flexible maternity leave policies, and we're looking at other ways we can support female lawyers so they stay at the firm and become partners.” 

Get Hired



To get a foot in the door, you'll need “cream of the crop academics, plus a genuine interest in international work at a truly global firm.” Foreign language skills go down well, as does a passion for travel, especially if you're a future litigator en route to DC: “There's so much travel involved, so people have to enjoy it.” Read the Bonus Features for more tips, plus advice from hiring partner Nick Williams.

 

Interview with Evan Cohen, regional managing partner of the Americas



Chambers Associate: How has the past year been for the US side of Clifford Chance's practice?

Evan Cohen: I'm extremely pleased and proud of the success we've had in the US. We're up to about 300 lawyers in New York, DC and also São Paulo. We are by far the biggest magic circle firm in the Americas.

Our strength this year meant that we promoted home-grown partners and brought in six lateral partners. One, Robert Rice, previously served as Chief Counsel to the Chair of the SEC, Mary Jo White; another, Dan Silver, came to us from the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, where he was Chief of the National Security and Cybercrime Section.

We're a great global firm but we're also a high-quality domestic firm with domestic practices that we are focused on building. To be credible in the market you have to have domestic strength in a number of key areas, and we have that. We have especially strong structured finance and REIT practices, and we're very proud of our litigation practice, which covers a lot of US white collar and investigatory work. 

We also have a top project finance team: we've been advising Goldman and JP Morgan; we've done the Lima metro; we've done wind farms in Uruguay; and now we're very involved in Argentina. We're so proud of that team.

We've been doing some big corporate deals for significant corporate clients. We did the Kraft/Cadbury deal, and more recently we've done a lot of work for big name companies like S&P Global and Mondelēz. Another highlight for us was the AB InBev/SABMiller merger: our tax team came up with and led the tax structure for that deal. Elsewhere, real estate has been growing a lot too.

CA: What does 2017 hold in store for Clifford Chance's US practice?

EC: We're looking to grow in corporate M&A and litigation.We've hired some laterals and promoted some talented associates, but we're still under-sized in comparison to the M&A powerhouses and big litigation teams at other New York firms.We need the additional scale and scope to continue to grow and increase our profile. However, we have a good team and a great base – one that's been built up through a combination of rewarding our associates and promoting our homegrown talent, as well as through bringing in high quality laterals; we've recently brought in people with white collar, anti-money laundering and international arbitration expertise. 

CA: Juniors mentioned that they'd done a lot of work with a Latin America component. How much of the work has this element?

EC: It's a good amount for us, but not a large percentage. The nice thing is that we do it in finance, capital markets, corporate M&A and litigation. We the oldest foreign firm in Brazil (having opened there in 1998), and last year was our best ever since we established ourselves in the country. We used to do a lot of debt and equity markets work, but that's been fairly dead over the last couple years. Now we do a lot of M&A and distressed M&A – attractive assets for clients who want to go into Brazil. We're also doing restructuring work, as well as litigation and investigatory matters, like FCPA advice.

Our various practices are strong across Latin America as well. We represented Goldman on Colombia's 4G toll roads, and now Goldman is looking into Paraguay and Argentina. The latter is on the up and is a focus for us in the Americas. We're seeing some infrastructure, finance and corporate M&A work there – it's very exciting. Latin America overall is very interesting, as every country is at a different stage of the economic cycle.

CA: Which practices attract a lot of domestic work?

EC: We do the whole gamut of asset finance work for clients across the US, and our practice is top of the market – we have a place on every big deal. We represent big operating lessors – including two of the biggest in the world – who buy aircraft from Boeing and others and lease them out. We also represent banks on EXIM and finance work in addition to securitisations, which involve buying portfolios of aircraft and securitising them.

We also have a leading insurance M&A practice. Our partners came up with an interesting, creative structure that injects liquidity into the reinsurance market; it's all about allowing reinsurers to have funds available to them. We've done six or seven of these deals now. We're the firm doing all of them, and all pieces of the transaction: the fund formation, the exit strategy etc... 

In addition we have an excellent REIT practice, which is always a purely domestic practice. We did the high profile Empire State building deal; the US owners of the building, Malkin Holdings, hired Clifford Chance to represent them. It was a massive deal that took years to complete as we created a trust – with Empire State as its premier building – and sold interest in the trust. The exciting thing about our REIT practice is that clients are now taking us outside the US to export a US product; we've gone into Mexico to establish FIBRAs, which are the Mexican versions of REITs, and now we're applying the US structure to Scandinavian REITs too.

CA: Are there any trends that you feel will impact the work done at Clifford Chance over the next year?

EC: With Trump coming into office there will be opportunities. First, in infrastructure: there is a significant need in the US for investment into infrastructure. In the past, Clifford Chance was very involved in the privatization of roads in the US. We worked on the Pennsylvania turnpike, the Chicago skyway, the New Jersey turnpike, as well as roads in Colorado and Texas. Now there's an opportunity for us to leverage our PPP expertise out of Europe, and to use our project finance expertise too.

Second, regulations will change. Dodd-Frank will be revisited. There will be a lot of questions, and we have the only US/Europe regulatory practice on the ground in New York; we can tell clients how they are being regulated in both jurisdictions. The practice has been a great success; we've had it for four or five years and it will become increasingly relevant going forward. Clients – like financial institutions that are subject to different regulations in different jurisdictions – want to navigate one system that complies with all regulatory environments – and we're the only firm that can offer US and regulatory advice on the ground.

CA: What is Clifford Chance's approach to diversity?

EC: Law firms are in a unique position to be role models for other businesses, so diversity is very important to us. We have a number of diversity subcommittees, like Arcus – the LGBT subcommittee – as well as ones for Black and Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander lawyers.

There's also a women's subcommittee and we bring in senior female clients to the office to speak. I am personally committed to including more women in the partnership; I have four daughters and I want them to have the same opportunities. We've just instituted more flexible maternity leave policies, and we're looking at other ways we can support female lawyers so they stay at the firm and become partners. 

I'd also like to mention that we have a military subcommittee too, which helps returning veterans go to law school and come back to the workforce. We are very proud that we're supporting them.

Nick Williams, New York 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.

Get Hired Tips



Show you're serious.“They are looking for people who want a long-term relationship. I saw in them a true commitment and plan, and they expect the same from you.”

Show you're switched on.“We look for people who seem to have good business sense. People are very practical and sensible here, so we'll be scrutinizing those qualities in our candidates.”

International perspective is important, but don't gloss over the domestic side. “We do domestic work as well. It's important to show an understanding of how CC works domestically, as well as how the elements of our work relate to the international field and global firm.”

Already a lawyer? Quite a few of our sources were already qualified in their home countries and transferred to CC in the US after studying an LLM. If you're practicing in a country CC's interested in (especially if you're based in Latin America), you might make the ideal candidate. “I think they saw added value in me, as I already knew that market and the local firms within it, plus I still had good relationships with them.”

 

 

Clifford Chance US LLP

31 W 52nd Street,
New York,
NY 10019-6131
Website www.cliffordchance.com

  • Head Office: London
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 31
  • Worldwide revenue: $2,056,023,000
  • Partners (US): 74
  • Associates (US): 200
  • Summer Salary2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,461.54/week
  • 2Ls: $3,461.54/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,461.54/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
  • Summers 2017: 28
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 26 offers, 22 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.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 33
• Number of 2nd year associates: 31
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
American, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Michigan, NYU, Penn, St. John’s, Virginia

Summer associate profile:
We believe in giving our lawyers a high level of exposure and responsibility from the very beginning. Over the ten week program, our clerks will work on a wide variety of assignments to not only gain exposure to our full range of practice areas, but to get to know the partners and associates in those departments as well. Through close attorney contact, formal training, time spent in one of our offices abroad, and social events that explore the city, our summer law clerks receive a realistic vision of what it means to be a Clifford Chance lawyer.

Summer program components:
We believe that the best learning is done on the job. In addition to the hands-on experience they’ll receive working alongside our partners and associates on real assignments, our summer law clerks also participate in formal training programs focused on legal writing, negotiations training, as well as a seminar specifically geared toward working as an international lawyer. Feedback is consistent and given on a formal and informal basis, allowing our clerks to have a clear idea of their development.