The magic of BigLaw can be found in cozier dimensions at Brit-born Clifford Chance, which offers big responsibility in small teams for ambitious juniors.
One day when this pandemic is over and you’re wandering around in public, gleefully greeting and hugging friends, you’ll have, in part, Clifford Chance to thank. The firm played a leading role in bringing Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to market, by advising Pfizer on the IP, corporate, tax and capital markets-related work on the deal. The vaccine is global news (duh!), and our sources at Clifford Chance were glad to see the firm get some recognition: “In the US CC isn’t as well known, so it’s great to work on matters that are in the news.”
Clifford Chance, or CC to its friends, may not yet have the profile it deserves in the US, but as the deal above suggests, CC is a powerhouse that works on matters of global scale and significance. It’s one of the five prestigious ‘magic circle’ firms in the UK (a label akin to the ‘white shoe firm’ tag of yesteryear in the US) and has 32 offices in total around the world. It also has a colossal 269 ranked departments in Chambers Global (119 of which are celebrated in the very top tier of Chambers rankings). On US soil, where CC has offices in New York and DC, it’s the firm’s projects and aviation finance work that gets top billing in Chambers USA. Its other notable practices in the US include capital markets, insurance, real estate investment trusts (REITs) and corporate/M&A (especially in New York).
“...it’s great to work on matters that are in the news.”
Both of CC’s US offices take on juniors, with New York housing around three quarters on our list and DC about ten. For our savvy sources, the firm’s “international reach,” “global reputation,” “overseas clients,” “strength across all transactional practices” and the opportunity to do international secondments were all major drawcards. Another attraction was the firm’s reported commitment to its people. “I’ve heard a lot about BigLaw burn-out from lawyers in industry,” said one source, “so I wanted a firm where I could feel comfortable and know it was taking care of the associates as human beings.”
CC “really wants you to be a generalist for the first few years of your career,” sources said. That was evident from our list of junior associates. Nearly half were in the ‘transactional associates pool,’ merrily splashing their way through “everything from private equity, to fund formation, to real estate, to M&A, capital markets, structured finance etc. It’s the A–Z at the beginning.” The L&DR (litigation and dispute resolution) department housed around a quarter of juniors, with the rest developing their careers in dedicated groups like tax, real estate and antitrust. Litigation juniors do specialize more (in comparison to their transactional pool counterparts), especially as CC in the US “is known for white-collar crime and government investigations.”
Managing it all are “two assignment coordinators [across all groups] and they are the primary mechanism: introducing you to teams and dividing the work.” Crucially, for those concerned about career development, particularly along D&I lines, the coordinators “make sure the work allocation is fair – they make sure no one is left behind or overworked.” Sources added that “you can also take your own initiative and reach out to people, so it’s kind of a hybrid system.” For those revving up to get international exposure, rest assured, as interviewees frequently relayed how “most of the work has involved one of our foreign offices.”
“You get to advance quickly.”
CC’s transactional client list is like a who’s-who of premier companies and institutions. For example, the banking and finance practice represents the world’s largest institutions, like Morgan Stanley and Citibank, on both sides of transactions. The big deals and small teams meant sources were able to get “good experience quickly.” The deals are, by necessity, “leanly staffed,” so for those looking to ease themselves into BigLaw life gently, CC may not be the best place to start out. However, the tradeoff is that “you get to advance quickly,” as sources pointed out. Juniors also felt it was “much easier to learn” on a smaller team: “I ask really annoying questions and when you’re working with one or two other people it’s easier to ask those questions!” one source quipped. Others reported learning from a “mixed bag” of tasks that ranged from “annoying things like closing files and more admin-type tasks, to writing agreements and managing workstreams, which is the fun and challenging stuff!”
Transactional clients: Pfizer, Credit Suisse Asset Management, Goldman Sachs. Recently represented a consortium of Japanese companies on their acquisition of shares in Aircastle Limited, an aviation finance company, in a deal valued at $7.4 billion.
In litigation, it’s real “international nexus work,” our sources confirmed. For anyone thinking that CC’s US offices are remote satellites, the cases worked on tell a different story: the firm’s US litigators represented Mike Lynch, the founder of tech company Autonomy, in proceedings related to what was dubbed the ‘tech trial of the decade’ by mainstream media. When a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation comes around, “all juniors can have their hands in it.” For one, this meant “a hybrid of really basic tasks like editing and printing, and more substantive tasks like legal research, analysis and presenting data to our clients.” The white-collar crime focus enabled another source to get involved in cross-examinations during trials and work with witnesses: “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been responsible for research and specific trial issues. I still have to review documents, as you need to get the lay of the land.”
Litigation clients: Swedbank, Autonomy founder Mike Lynch, Bank of Montreal. Recently defended a former Alstom executive in federal criminal proceedings related to a prior indictment that accused CC’s client of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) among other misdemeanors.
Pro Bono and Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
With big matters and lean teams, we were surprised our sources had time to talk to us at all! However, our sources said the hours weren’t ridiculous: “The norm is somewhere between 40 and 50 hours a week,” reported a transactional associate, “but sometimes the hours are longer if we have a deal closing.” The hours can be intense on the litigation side too, with this junior highlighting that “pre-COVID I would be tethered to my desk from 9am until 9–10pm.” Sources did add that CC puts an “emphasis on making sure your hours are not too high,” but survey data revealed that the average working hours for respondents over the last week was more than 55 hours, which is toward the higher end of things. The consensus was that there are “long hours, but the teams are really respectful.” On the plus side, associates’ hard work was rewarded by CC providing “special bonuses, which was exciting!”
“...long hours, but the teams are really respectful.”
Juniors don’t have a formal billing target for their first two years at CC. After that, there’s a 2,000-hour target to hit in order to qualify for a full bonus, but the firm also considers other factors when awarding amounts. The firm also shows its appreciation for those who bill 250 hours a month by issuing them with a 'Thank You' certificate, which they can put toward an activity or a dining occasion. All pro bono hours count as billable, and while there’s “no minimum requirement for pro bono,” we heard that “the firm wants people to get more involved.” One junior noted that “especially with COVID there was some good pressure to do pro bono. As a result of the pandemic, I worked on compassionate relief matters and spent a lot of hours on them.”
Pro bono hours
•For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
•Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed
“I feel like it’s the healthiest culture in BigLaw,” declared one very content source. “There are very good people here!” From the most reverent to the more restrained, juniors generally agreed that “everyone is kind and helpful. Not fake, not a ‘New York nice.’ People are genuinely nice.” In fact, authenticity was a word that came up a few times. With a nod to tea and crumpets, Mary Poppins and all things British, interviewees said the US offices “like to think they stand apart from the UK mothership, but I think the UK-ness comes out in the etiquette and decorum. People expect you to comport your behavior in accordance with an extremely professional environment.” Keep your elbows in, dear.
“...I think the UK-ness comes out in the etiquette and decorum.”
Sources put the friendliness and respect down to a cosmopolitan working environment and the relatively small office sizes in the US. This sense of coziness was even more apparent in DC, according to our correspondents there. “The expectations are different,” they explained. “DC is more relaxed and has more of a family atmosphere. If you want to log off and see your kids and log back in later, you can, but not so much in New York.”
Diversity & Inclusion
We heard mixed reviews on diversity from our sources. Interviewees were generally complimentary when it came to the effort that CC is putting in but acknowledged that the level of representation at the firm is “better globally than it is in the US.” At the moment, as this junior put it, “the firm has a lot of rhetoric, but diversity is not something you see when you walk around.” Racial and ethnic diversity was flagged as an area needing attention especially.
While the number of women partners is slightly lower in comparison to the average recorded from participating firms in Chambers Associate, the litigation and dispute resolution department reportedly has a good level of representation: “On one trial team nearly everyone is a woman. I’ve only worked with one or two men.” Among CC’s diversity initiatives are internal networks for minority groups, a gender-parity group, and a mental health app that lawyers have access to. CC is also participating in the latest iteration of the Mansfield Rule commitment (version 4.0).
Associates across the spectrum had no issues with staying at the firm. Sources mentioned regular training and available mentors – both formal and informal. These include a “partner/counsel mentor, who’s chosen based on your expressed interests. You meet with them formally every quarter to go over your progress.” One source said the career mentor “looked at the stuff you’re working on and who you haven’t worked for” in order to “spot gaps and help you develop skills. It’s nice to have someone looking out for you.”
“I’m not sure how much of a stepping-stone CC is to other BigLaw firms,” an interviewee reflected. “The people who have left went for in-house opportunities or they wanted to move out of the New York and DC markets. I’ve also seen people get seconded to the UK or Asia and like it so much they want to stay there.”
Strategy & Future
Despite the ongoing disruption caused by the global pandemic, CC’s juniors were confident in the firm’s ability to ride out the storm. “We’ll be continuing to expand,” predicted one, while another confirmed that “the firm has been growing its US practice. We’ve been adding associates and the summer class numbers have increased too.” Juniors also commended the firm for being “transparent about goals and objectives. We have quarterly associate meetings where we’re given updates on the global strategy.”
Clifford Chance informs us that it is following all relevant local government guidance and closely monitoring the situation to ensure that it is ready to adapt to changing circumstances. As a result, the firm is finding new and innovative approaches to its recruitment. In May 2021, it welcomed its second virtual summer class, bringing together clerks from its New York, Washington DC, Hong Kong, London and Frankfurt offices. Building on the programming from the previous year, the firm’s virtual summer class was actively engaged from day one: participating in interactive trainings and creative social events, and getting hands-on work experience to get to know the firm’s culture. For career opportunities, visit the firm’s jobs portal. For any questions about the firm’s recruitment process, visit the ‘contact us’ page for information.
Clifford Chance's 2021 summer program will be hosted online.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 553
Interviewees outside OCI: 15
Clifford Chance conducts OCIs at 15 law schools, and typically meets between 550 and 650 students on campus each season.
The interviews are largely conducted by partners and senior associates on the hiring committee, which also include “a group of active partners who are extremely committed to recruiting at their alma maters year after year," says Sarah Posner, the firm’s head of legal recruiting in the US. ”The first interview round is fast; the students that are able to make the most of these twenty minutes by bringing their resume to life and showing us what interests them (both inside and outside the law) will stand out, " explains Posner.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 234
Successful candidates are invited back to the firm for second round callback interviews. These consist of four 30-minute interviews with two partners and two associates. At this stage, the questions are “more substantive," says Posner. There are also some specific questions that interviewers ask each interviewee to standardize the process. “In addition to that, questions that let us know what has brought a candidate to Clifford Chance over another firm are very telling,” says Posner.
Top tips for this stage:
"Don't get caught up in researching every aspect of your interviewer's career. It is much more important to have a basic understanding of the work we do (not specific to that attorney) and be able to show a genuine interest in why you want to join us,” says Posner.
Clifford Chance’s summer program lasts for ten weeks and is designed to give summer law clerks a true picture of what it will be like to join as an associate. “We hire between 30 and 35 law clerks in the US each summer,” says Posner. Because of the size of the program “it allows us to really tailor the experience; we're able to involve our clerks in specific areas of our practice and with specific attorneys,” says Posner. "I always tell my summer classes: 'by the end of these ten weeks, you really will get to know everyone in the office.' I've never broken that promise."
Top tips for this stage:
“Be responsive and engage." We don’t expect our summers to know it all, but we do expect them to be enthusiastic and show us just why they want to be here,” says Posner.
Clifford Chance US LLP
31 W 52nd Street,
- Head office: London
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 30
- Worldwide revenue: $2,290,000,000
- Partners (US): 81
- Associates (US): 179
- Main recruitment contact: Sarah Posner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Diversity officer: Zarrar Sehgal
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 28
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 32, SEO: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY: 28, DC: 8
- Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $7,916.67/semi-monthly 2Ls: $7,916.67/semi-monthly
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
NY: Banking and finance, capital markets, corporate/M&A, private funds, insurance, litigation and dispute resolution, real estate and tax, pensions and employment.
DC: Banking and finance (with a specific focus on project finance), competition/antitrust, structured finance and litigation and dispute resolution.
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.
Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2021:
• George Washington
• St. John’s
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. In addition, our attorneys have exposure to our vast global network; when international business travel is possible again, we’ll provide our 2L law clerks the opportunity to spend two weeks working in one of our offices abroad during the summer program.
Summer program components:
In addition to the hands-on experience they’ll receive working alongside our partners and associates on real assignments, our summer law clerks participate in formal training programs focused on legal writing, corporate transactions, as well as a seminar specifically geared toward working as an international lawyer. Feedback is given on a formal and informal basis, allowing our clerks to have a clear idea of their development.
Recruitment website: www.cliffordchance.com/usrecruting
US Twitter: @CC_Americas
UK Twitter: @Clifford_Chance
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: CMBS (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: RMBS (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Derivatives (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
- REITs (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)