Take a Chance on this magic circle Brit – “top of the pops cross-border work” in a small, tight-knit office is the prize on offer.
ONCE upon a time (1987), in a faraway magical land (London, England), two noble law firms tied the knot to form a powerful union – the result was Clifford Chance. One of the UK’s five elite ‘magic circle’ firms and an international giant (32 offices worldwide, cor blimey!), CC is "really trying to grow its US practice” according to junior insiders: “New York and DC are points of real importance because we put an emphasis on cross-border work.” The firm’s US presence pivots on finance, corporate and litigation practices with some tasty niches hidden within; REITs, capital markets and aviation finance are the best of the bunch, according to Chambers USA.
TOP READ: Getting to know the Clifford Chance regulatory group: When regulations change or new rules are brought in, it’s a regulatory lawyer’s responsibility to know the latest. Here, the team at Clifford Chance tell all about regulatory work.
Big news globally, small team in the States – that's the headline for juniors at Clifford Chance. The firm is a high performer in our associate satisfaction survey in areas including happiness in current role, work/life balance and support from partners. “When I’m walking around our floor it takes me an hour to get back to my desk,” a source laughed. “I can pop into my colleagues’ offices for a catchup even if the door isn’t open and we’re genuinely invested in each other’s lives, Clifford Chance feels like home in that sense.” The majority of juniors can be found in the New York office – DC hires a smaller number of newbies.
Strategy & Future
Clifford Chance’s insurance group co-head in the Americas, Nick Williams, tells us: “The firm is continuing to build upon its practice in the US, and that was hammered home during this year’s partners meeting in DC – the first ever to be held outside Europe. Over 500 partners came from all over the firm, emphasizing the Americas practice and the relevance and importance of this market.” Diversity was another key talking point: "We are 100% committed to diversity, and that starts with our incoming classes – whether it consists of female, LGBT or ethnic candidates. If you are here, it’s because we think you could make partner – you’re not disposable at CC.” Check out the full interview on the Bonus Features tab above.
“Over 500 partners came from all over the firm, emphasizing the Americas practice.”
Summer associates indicate via a questionnaire whether they’re leaning more toward litigation or transactional work. Those who opt for the latter dive headfirst into a ‘pool’ when they return to Clifford Chance; they get to sample corporate, banking and finance and capital markets. “Over the first two years you explore and gradually distinguish what you’d like to specialize in. Toward the end of your second year you zero in on your preferred work.” Some feared that “it may take a little longer than that to hone your skills” enough to pick a specialty, but agreed that “if you’re not sure what part of law you want to practice in then CC is a great place to explore different avenues.” Associates receive a weekly email with their estimated hours for the week and respond with their own predictions; assigning coordinators dole out work accordingly.
Corporate juniors spent most of their time on private M&A deals: “I was involved in all facets including the purchase agreement. I reviewed the tail end of documents, listened in on client calls and researched into clients’ questions,” one explained. “Partners delegate work to the extent that associates are running the deal – you get top-notch experience,” especially when working for startups in different jurisdictions aiming to crack the US market. Tasks vary by deal type: structured finance deals involved “preparing the documents alongside another associate to ensure that the comments we provided were accurately reported.” Globally the firm is huge in all areas of capital markets and the New York office's derivatives and securitization practices attract acclaim.
Interested in banking? Expect “a combination of general and asset finance. I draft up the credit agreements and security documents while reviewing the main transactional documents,” a junior said. CC mostly works for “major industrial borrowers including real estate companies and big banks.” Associates “get the excitement of dealmaking but can also refine the skills you learn in law school. In banking and finance, you are the master of the document – you’re writing the terms in which the client must operate.” The transactional pool generally got good reviews: “I had a lot more client contact than I anticipated, and I’ve been attending pitches and client lunches since my first year.”
Transactional clients: Hearst, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo. Advised the underwriters on the issuance of $1 billion of 10.75% notes by the Republic of Ecuador.
“If you want to travel, CC is the place to be."
Litigators didn’t need a pool to soak up white-collar and regulatory work, traditional commercial and civil litigation. CC insiders told us the department is “now moving more toward cybersecurity and cybercurrency cases.” Lean staffing can be something of a double-edged sword for juniors: “There’s a big learning curve and you get growth early on in your career. On the other hand, it means you’re sometimes the only one working alongside a partner on a matter you have no experience in.” Daunting stuff, but interviewees weren’t afraid to act as “the specialist on the case” during international trial cases. "Our client was accused of fraud by the US government: I prepped the witness, assisted with drafting and attended the trial.” The firm’s practice is international to the core and we heard from many that “if you want to travel, CC is the place to be. What I do is more international than I expected.” One even told us they’d done more work overseas than in the States.
Litigation clients: Santander, Bank of Montreal, Vienna International Airport. Represented former FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb following charges of corrupt payments in exchange for TV rights.
First years roll straight into the firm’s associate mentorship program, “paired up with a senior associate. They're a good resource for us to approach with any questions, but it’s not too formal.” We heard that CC “does a good job of getting your feet wet” with regular training in associates’ first two years. “We have workshops on topics like negotiation and cross-border M&A – they’re very thorough, our most recent session lasted five hours!” These helped many to understand the firm’s international footprint and “the differences between jurisdictions.” Heading into mid-level and senior roles, associates move into an external development program involving recreations of real-life scenarios to help practice business skills. Juniors told us the firm doesn’t shed light on the partnership process “until you are senior – it’s not that relevant when you’re just starting out.”
Diversity & Inclusion
CC achieved Mansfield Rule Certification in 2018 and subscribed to the 2.0 edition – aiming to interview a minimum 30% women, LGBT+ and minority lawyers for top roles. Internal diversity networks include Arcus for LGBT+ attorneys, gender parity group Accelerate>>> (we think the arrows are silent) and Black and Latino and Asian and Pacific Islanders’ subcommittees. “The majority of recent summer classes have been female and there have been more women promoted to partner than ever,” according to junior insiders, who were especially impressed with the litigation department. “It’s pretty unusual for white-collar litigation to have so many women, it’s great!”
“Partners speak about their experiences and struggles with mental health.”
Each initiative runs its own events: Arcus recently hosted a series of pride art exhibitions showcasing the work of LGBT+ and ally artists across the New York and DC offices. The women’s committee arranges conference room coffee meetups to openly discuss diversity projects and ideas. Clifford Chance also encourages attorneys to voice any personal issues they may be facing and “partners speak about their own experiences and struggles with mental health. There are also support services available, like free therapy sessions.” All associates have access to Ginger, a mental health app which provides round-the-clock support from a team of coaches.
Our sources appreciated CC’s realistic approach to BigLaw: “When you’re staffed on a deal it’s how are we going to get this done, not how are you going to get this done. Every time I have a question, a partner will take time to sit me down and help me understand.” Other juniors were similarly impressed with attitudes among the top brass: even the one cynical soul who would only say that “a partner has never thrown an object at me out of anger, so that’s a good sign!” Because of the firm’s international practice, getting comfortable with different time zones is essential for all, and indeed all agreed that “the culture is very seamless. I never would have thought I’d have friends from around the world but people at CC stay connected no matter where they are.” This doesn’t just mean WhatsApp chats with Clifford Chancers in Britain, “you work with associates around the US and internationally.”
“Fewer lawyers means a better culture – you’re not a small fish in a big pond.”
In New York and DC there were juniors who had “colleagues’ personal numbers and we chat about things outside of work. I've made real friends at the firm.” One chalked this down to the smaller US headcount, suggesting “fewer lawyers means a better culture – you’re not a small fish in a big pond.” It also means fewer names to learn for social events. New York associates gushed about an annual trip to Victoria Gardens in Central Park. The whole office gathers for “food, drinks, rides and music. Everyone brings their family and friends and you get to meet a bunch of people in your co-workers' lives, it’s good fun.” Throughout the year, CC hosts an array of socials including themed happy hours, casual Fridays, buffets, closing dinners and office hangs. “The conversations are not necessarily work-based, they’re conversations you’d have with a friend from college,” insiders assured us.
New arrivals don’t have to wait to join the firm proper to kick-start their pro bono practice: during the summer program “associates set aside a few days to work with (domestic violence charity) My Sister’s Place, we participate in training and work on related cases.” All fully-fledged newbies receive a project via Paladin, a new tool at CC which attorneys use to seek out pro bono and request projects. The cases on offer vary from immigration and employment cases to work with the Equal Justice Initiative on cases for children. “We can bring our own personal cases in,” as a junior detailed for us. “It can be for anything – you just need it approved by the pro bono coordinator and then get a partner who is willing to supervise the case, it's super easy. You also have access to all the firm’s resources.” Associates can also count all pro bono as billable hours.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per US attorney: undisclosed
Hours & Compensation
There’s no formal billing target at CC and “for your first two years you’re guaranteed a bonus regardless of your hours.” From year three onward, associates must reach 2,000 hours to get their full bonus but there’s still no minimum requirement. As an additional incentive for work junkies, anybody who bills over 250 hours in a month gets a $400 gift certificate to go toward an outing – “your practice partner hand delivers the certificate as a means of checking in on you. You get a thank you but there’s by no means an expectation” to clock in such high numbers.
"I’ve never pulled an all-nighter.”
Most associates worked 9:30am to 7:30pm on average, stretching to midnight finishes on the busiest days. “If I'm leaving the office late it’s usually near a closing,” one said. “I can count on one hand the number of times it's happened, and I’ve never pulled an all-nighter.” The ups and downs in corporate mean juniors there “have periods of late nights and periods where I’m out by 4pm.” Capital markets juniors were likely to work the longest shifts, but even they agreed “it’s part of the job and we get paid crazy money, so it doesn’t feel that unreasonable.” Working from home is possible but more typical for senior associates; juniors joked that “if you sit at home doing document review all year, when you emerge as a third year no one will know who you are!” CC also offers 20 days of vacation, and if associates work for more than four hours on a vacation day it gets replenished.
- Clifford Chance's 2020 summer program will be hosted online.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 597
Interviewees outside OCI: 23
Clifford Chance conducts OCIs at 14 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, in addition to “a group of very active partners who commit to returning to their alma mater’s campus each year,” New York hiring partner Nick Williams tells us. This initial interview is “largely personality-driven,” says Williams. “I’m looking for someone who displays a genuine interest in the work we do, but with outside interests as well. It’s important to find candidates who are well rounded.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Be confident in your answers and engage. Every minute counts. If you go off on a tangent it may be hard to come back, so it’s incumbent on both parties to keep the conversation on track.” – New York hiring partner Nick Williams
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 244
Successful candidates are invited back to the firm and undertake callback interviews. These consist of four 30-minute interviews with two partners and two associates. At this stage, the questions are “more substantive” – Nick Williams explains that he's “looking for candidates to show me something I can’t glean from the resume in front of me.” There are also some specific questions that interviewers ask each interviewee to standardize the process. “In addition to that, I find questions that let me know what has brought a candidate to Clifford Chance over another firm very telling,” says Williams.
Top tips for this stage:
“Many candidates get too wrapped up in knowing specific facts about the interviewers. I am much more interested in hearing about a candidate’s reason for interviewing with us, why he/she chose to go to law school or what he/she has learned from their first year other than being able to recite my online bio!” – hiring partner Nick Williams
Clifford Chance’s summer program lasts for ten weeks and involves “interactive training programs, opportunities to meet attorneys both inside and outside the office through work assignments and networking events, and of course, the opportunity to spend two of the ten weeks working in one of the offices abroad,” Williams reveals. Work assignment is structured similarly to assignment for juniors: there is no formal rotation system, meaning “we have the opportunity to really tailor the experience.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Work hard, be responsive and timely. We don’t expect our summers to know it all, but we do expect them to show us just why they want to be here.” – hiring partner Nick Williams
Getting to know the Clifford Chance regulatory group
When regulations change or new rules are brought in, it’s a regulatory lawyer’s responsibility to know the latest and to be able to interpret new information for their clients. Legislation brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic has only served to highlight this. Here, the team at Clifford Chance tell all about working in regulatory law.
Clifford Chance LLP
31 W 52nd Street,
- Head office: London
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 30
- Worldwide revenue: $2,175,000,000
- Partners (US): 72
- Associates (US): 200
- Main recruitment contact: Sarah Posner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring Partner: Nicholas R. Williams (NY) Steve Nickelsburg (DC)
- Diversity officer: Zarrar Sehgal
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 23
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls (1), 2Ls (20), SEO (1)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY:16, DC: 6
- Summer salary 2020: 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), litigation and dispute resolution and structured finance.
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 2020:
• 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. 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:
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: @CC_UK_PR
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (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)