Clifford Chance LLP - The Inside View

If you’re looking for “real international connections” coupled with a cozier culture, don’t let this Chance slip by.

Brits and Americans tend to disagree on a few things when it comes to numbers, whether that’s the MM/DD format, the metric system, or even the minimum distance of a ‘long’ journey. Yet Clifford Chance’s 2,500+ attorneys across 32 offices undeniably makes it one big firm. That at least, we can all agree on. Despite its UK origins, the BigLaw name is one that fits Clifford Chance down to a T, and it was the firm’s scale that was a big part of the draw for our interviewees: “I was attracted to the idea of working at a truly international firm, with real international connections,” one told us, “rather than one with a few relationships with firms in other countries.” As regional managing partner Sharis Pozen adds: “We are uniquely positioned as we can solve legal issues in a cross-border, cross-office fashion while operating within a single network.” Our colleagues at Chambers Global can also attest to Clifford Chance’s international prowess, awarding the firm a huge number of rankings across six continents (three guesses as to which one is left!). More locally, however, the Chambers USA guide dishes out further top-notch rankings to some of the firm’s nationwide practices: corporate crime & investigations, agency financing projects and aviation finance.

“This is definitely a place where they value you as a whole person.”

Despite being such a global superstar, Clifford Chance’s US arm is still comparatively young, and growing. Associates felt the firm had “almost a midsized vibe with Biglaw matters, clients and events.” Coupled with a smaller headcount, the current crop of juniors found that “this is definitely a place where they value you as a whole person.” What’s more, interviewees appreciated that while “there’s a more homey aspect, you still get to work on big deals and get broad experience.”

Clifford Chance is recognized as The Elite for Associate Satisfaction and quality of life in our 2024 survey.

Strategy & Future



The US offices are the main players in the firm’s current growth strategy, according to Pozen, who highlights how “the US is a critical part of our global offering. We’ve been in serious growth mode and making bold moves on that front.” Case in point: the firm opened a brand spanking new Houston office in spring 2023 which, at the time of writing, has already welcomed 14 partners. Alongside the firm’s focus on technology, healthcare and life sciences, Pozen tells us that the firm has always benefitted from “global preeminence in energy and infrastructure, but Houston was the missing piece.” With the DC office set to hit a headcount in the triple digits and the New York contingent soon moving to a shiny new space in Manhattan West, growth is by no means restricted to the Houston base. “We’ve increased the number of partners in the US by 40% since 2020. We now have 111 partners across our three offices,” Pozen clarifies, and this focus was valued by associates, too: “the firm isn’t just making decisions to make money for tomorrow. There’s a long-term strategy in place, and leadership is keen to keep everyone in the loop.”

The Work



The New York office takes on the lion’s share of associates, with a few more in DC and a couple in Houston. Many associates on our list worked in the litigation group, while others were dotted across a range of transactional groups, such as tax and projects. That said, the transactional pool was home to the majority of associates, so let us explain the setup: Instead of joining a specific practice area, new transactional associates enter through a pool system, and can work with as many teams and try out as many matters as they want. After 18 months (previously two and a half years), associates then choose the group that they want to join, though a source was keen to highlight how “if you want to try everything you possibly can before deciding, you can do that. But many do start to gravitate towards a specific group.” Though spoilt for choice, associates in the pool were pleased that the work is centrally allocated, meaning “you get a chance to just do the work.” Meanwhile, juniors in other practice groups found that, alongside the formal structures in place, there was also the option to “go up and ask somebody if they have anything they need help with when you’re slow.”

“… the skills I learn from one group translate well when working for another.”

The corporate, finance and real estate groups all draw from the transactional pool, and interviewees here mentioned that they’d had the chance to dive into a range of M&A, capital markets, banking, private funds, insurance, and tech/digital assets matters. One interviewee appreciated how “there’s a lot of crossover in all the groups, so the skills I learn from one group translate well when working for another.” However, regardless of what type of matter newbies had dipped their toes into, cross-border matters were available across the board. Associates had also been “entrusted with a lot of responsibility,” taking on substantive drafting, research tasks, client correspondence and joining negotiation calls. That said, juniors should still expect to become familiar with some more typical newbie work, like running checklists, putting documents together and generally assisting on tasks here and there: “At the start I was helping out where I could, but just learning how a deal flows has been really useful.” No matter the task, sources found that senior attorneys would take the time to guide them and offer feedback, which gave some interviewees the confidence to “run, or help run a few deals which aren’t particularly complicated, but great experience nonetheless.”

Transactional clients: BlackRock, Informa, Credit Suisse. Advised Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan on the Soccer Champions Tour launch, which was created by investment firm Sixth Street to grow the market share of the clubs.

The tax, pensions & employment group works closely with a range of transactional teams, such as capital markets and real estate, offering specialized support on related matters. “When you first start, you get work from everybody and can try out a really broad range. I’ve helped on M&A, funds and securitizations matters, just to a name a few,” one source outlined. “Like the transactional pool, you get different types of work and can start to specialize as you become more senior.” Tax reviews are a key part of the role, and juniors explained how “from time to time we receive a last-minute request asking us to take a look at a deal that needs to be launched in a week, so the timing can be tight!” Legal research skills will be well utilized here, and associates explained how they often join calls with clients and partners to assess the tax aspects of matters. However, interviewees once again enjoyed the global aspects of the role, noting how many transactions are led by teams in London or across Asia.

Tax clients: Pfizer, Grenergy Renovables, Admiral Group. Counseled Nuveen Green Capital on a fund formation related to the financing of various environmental projects, often related to clean energy and water conservation.

Clifford Chance’s litigators keep it broad with a variety of disputes, including general commercial and civil litigation, white collar investigations, arbitration and even some crypto work. Interviewees in the DC office noted how there’s a thriving international trade and export controls practice, and many partners focus on the regulatory side of litigation. Juniors, meanwhile, get to take on a variety of tasks according to insiders: “We’re taking calls with the client and talking them through strategy, and often really involved in pre-trial motions.” Drafting, research, doc review and case analysis are other key newbie tasks, though sources assured that “you get to work on whatever they need, so can get great early responsibility if you want it.”

Litigation clients: Swedbank, Middle Eastern Bank, the founder of Autonomy. Represented the latter, whose technology company was acquired by Hewlett Packard in 2011, on allegations of fraud, and in additional extradition proceedings.

Pro Bono



With unlimited pro bono on offer, associates can get stuck into plenty of matters. So much so that “if you need to pause your billables for your pro bono work, the firm will work with you.” For instance, interviewees highlighted opportunities to assist lawyers off the back of Roe v Wade, work on legal name changes for transgender clients and fill out tax exemption forms for nonprofits, alongside a bunch of criminal and immigration matters. The firm has strong connections with different organizations, such as My Sister’s Place, which supports women who have been victims of domestic violence. Although associates have access to a system which circulates available opportunities, they can also bring in their own matters as “it’s really entrepreneurial. If you have a practical plan on how you’ll responsibly and fully represent a client, they’d let you do what you want.” More ambitious associates can venture outside of their practice group to hone their skills but, whatever matter you find yourself on, sources agreed that “it’s real lawyering. Pro bono is typically the kind of work that made us all interested in becoming lawyers in the first place, and it’s great to get that practical experience.”

Pro bono hours 

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

Career Development



Mentoring was a key piece of the puzzle according to interviewees, who raved about how “they stack it up! I got a second-year associate office mate when you first start, then a mid-level or senior associate mentor, then a partner career development mentor.” Some had had chats about the path to partnership, but explained that serious discussions don’t take place until around fifth year. However, sources did not feel confined to these formal assigned support networks, and more generally felt “almost every senior associate I’ve worked with is always happy to explain things and be a sounding board for questions.”

“I think the real training lies in just how much CC likes to get its juniors involved.”

The transactional pool was broadly described as beneficial to associate development, as “you’re really trying out the context of what you’re doing as much as the people you’re working with. Figuring out what groups and matters suit you is helpful for your career and associate retention.” Despite the structured mentoring program, sources explained that learning is more informal: “I think the real training lies in just how much CC likes to get its juniors involved. Communicating with clients or taking the first crack at drafting a document is what helps us progress.”

Clifford Chance is recognized as an Excellent Performer in career development and two other categories in our 2024 survey.

Hours & Compensation



Billable target: no requirement

Interviewees were pleased to report that billing time was not a source of anxiety at Clifford Chance, as “that includes a lot more than billable client work. Aside from pro bono, knowledge development time counts, such as CLE presentations, firm publications, recruitment, business development and even evaluations.” Centralized staffing on matters also reassured associates, as “the staffing groups are aware that billable hours have been down across the industry this year, so they do their best to give us projects.” Interviewees explained that bonuses are typically based on performance, but one mentioned that “if there is going to be an issue with your hours being low, it will be brought up with enough time to fix it, and not just sprung on you during your end of year review.”

“They see associates as the future of the firm and don’t want us to burn out.”

Day to day, associates explained that hours can vary, but a standard work day could finish anywhere between 6 and 10pm. “One of the hard parts about the job is that it’s a little bit unpredictable, but it becomes more predictable the more I get used to it,” an associate summarized. But while days can get long, meaning associates might work on the weekends or “feel like I have to be on standby until 10 or 11pm,” many appreciated the flexibility: “If people see me late in the office they’ll encourage me to sleep in the next day. They see associates as the future of the firm and don’t want us to burn out.” We heard people at the firm are also encouraged to use their time off, as one relieved associate noted: “I’ve never worked on vacation! I can take a week or two off at a time and work with others beforehand to get coverage.”

Culture



“There’s a real team attitude, not to be cheesy,” sources told us, whether that’s collaborating, socializing, or offering a shoulder to cry on when the going gets tough. “It’s a place where I feel like I have friends, and I know people on a personal level,” a junior summarized. “There are many people who have been here at least 10 or 15 years, and they make Clifford Chance the warm place it is.” Associates had been able to get an insight into the wider firm culture through cross-border matters, and all felt they could “speak to the fact that it’s definitely firm-wide.” Back on home turf, the firm hosts plenty of events for attorneys to get to know each other, such as summer outings, happy hours and holiday parties. Juniors in DC noted that “we hold specific events here, such as diversity receptions, Black History Month celebrations, and an amazing art showcase during Pride.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



Sources praised the firm’s “genuine” efforts around diversity, noting how the firm is doing especially well when it comes to the representation of women. Pozen explains how half of the global management board is female and, while it’ll take a little while longer to balance diversity more broadly across the more senior ranks, interviewees were “actually shocked” at the sheer number of women associates - a whole 55%! “The work that Clifford Chance does in DEI makes me feel pride in the firm, and shows that it’s not just some kind of marketing fluff," one associate shared, "CC has been really intentional with its lateral hires and promotions to leadership roles," and others told us how “it feels genuine. There’s a top-down approach to inclusion which is so important, and I can feel it from the partners I work with.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 340

Interviewees outside OCI: 190

Clifford Chance conducts OCIs at 15 law schools, and typically meets between 500 and 600 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.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 165

Second round interviews 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.

Summer program

Offers: 75

Acceptances:  43 2L's

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 40-50 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 LLP

10 Upper Bank Street,
Canary Wharf,
London,
E14 5JJ
Website www.cliffordchance.com

31 W 52nd Street,
New York,
NY 10019-6131

Main areas of work
NY:
Banking and finance, capital markets, corporate/M&A, private funds, insurance, litigation & dispute resolution, real estate and tax, pensions & employment.
DC: Banking and finance (with a specific focus on project finance), competition/antitrust, structured finance, litigation & dispute resolution.
Houston: Corporate/M&A, capital markets, project finance, and tech digital

Firm profile
Clifford Chance is a global law firm with significant depth, offering a range of resources across five continents. As a single, fully integrated global partnership, we pride ourselves on our approachable, team-based working style. We strive to not just meet, but exceed our client's expectations, which include corporates from all commercial and industrial sectors, governments, regulators, trade bodies and not-for-profit organizations. With regional offices in New York, Washington, DC, Houston, and São Paulo, and a team of more than 400 lawyers works across Banking & Finance, Capital Markets, Corporate, Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Real Estate and Tax, Pensions & Employment, we offer ready access to US financial and political centers, as well as decades of experience in helping our clients achieve their business objectives while managing risk. We have significant sector practices in Funds & Investment Management, Insurance, Private Equity, Technology and Transportation.

Recruitment
Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2024:
• American
• Brooklyn
• Columbia
• Cornell
• Duke
• Fordham
• Georgetown
• George Washington
• Harvard
• Howard
• Michigan
• NYU
• Penn
• St. John’s
• UVA

Summer associate profile:
We host summer programs in all three of our US offices. During the ten-week program, our summer law clerks work on a wide variety of assignments, gaining exposure to our full range of practice areas and getting to know the partners, associates and business professionals in those departments.

We believe that the best learning is done on the job, and we also understand that the first two years of law school can only cover so much. We encourage our law clerks to use the summer program to try areas of the law they may not have had exposure to, and to find the best fit. We do not have a fixed rotation; our assignment system provides flexibility to tailor each project based on each summer's interest and availability.

In addition, our attorneys have exposure to our vast global network; we provide our 2L law clerks the opportunity to spend time working in one of our offices abroad during the summer program.

Summer program components:
In addition to real work experience, our summer law clerks participate in formal training programs focused on legal writing and practice area presentations, as well as a variety of outside speakers presenting on everything from how to Discover and Define Your Professional Persona to topical DE&I issues and events. In order to provide exposure to our global network, we provide all of our 2L law clerks the opportunity to spend time working in one of our international offices.

Social media
Recruitment website: https://jobs.cliffordchance.com/us

(www.facebook.com/CliffordChanceGrads)

UK Twitter: @Clifford_Chance

LinkedIn: clifford-chance-americas (https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/clifford-chance-americas)
clifford-chance-llp (https://www.linkedin.com/company/clifford-chance-llp)

YouTube: Clifford Chance (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmkCfXCygdJsvTp2M87Ezbw) 
Clifford Chance Careers (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxQ_jcfCQFR0OCdlINkhupQ)

Instagram: @CliffordChanceCareers (https://www.instagram.com/cliffordchancecareers)

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CMBS (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CRE CLOs (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: RMBS (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Derivatives (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)

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