Clifford Chance LLP - The Inside View

There’s a good chance you’ll be happy at CC if access to international matters via small local teams is what you’re after.

Over the years, many a Brit has been welcomed into US public life with open arms: think Adele, think Prince Harry. Securing such a successful crossover in the realm of US BigLaw can be quite a challenge, and something most of the British ‘magic circle’ firms have been working on over the last few decades. But these prestigious Brit outfits have seen their star rise in that time and certainly offer the US market something a bit different: Clifford Chance is a perfect example.

“I was looking for a firm with smaller teams but the same level of work.”

With its US offices in New York and DC, ‘CC’ (as it’s affectionately referred to by associates), can provide its attorneys with an alternative platform from which to delve into international practice: “I had experience at a larger US firm,” a source recounted, “and I thought ‘How do you ever get real facetime with partners?’ I was looking for a firm with smaller teams but the same level of work, and in this global economy the international aspect was really important to me.” Enter CC. For many of our interviewees, the firm’s ability to give them access to significant global matters in a more intimate setting is what won out when they made the decision to join.

Read about lateral recruitment at Clifford Chance here.

Chambers USA praises CC’s work in several areas. When it comes to nationwide prowess, the firm’s securitization expertise is highly respected across various categories (including collaterized loan obligations and commercial mortgage-backed securities), while its projects, aviation finance, and corporate crime and investigations capabilities nab top rankings. In New York, CC’s corporate/M&A, insurance, white-collar crime and tax know-how receive nods. While the transactional scope was a major draw for many juniors, we should make it clear that if you’re an aspiring litigator interested in white-collar and investigations work, CC should definitely be on your list.

Strategy & Future



“We truly are a full-service firm advising domestic and multinational clients on US law matters in the US, Latin America and across global markets,” says Evan Cohen, CC’s regional managing partner for the Americas. Significant sectors covered by the firm in the US include private equity, insurance, tech, funds and investment management, and transportation. “This year [2021] saw demand increase each quarter, from a challenging first few months significantly affected by COVID-related uncertainty through to a final quarter which saw activity at all-time record levels in many practices and geographies.”

“…companies are increasingly aware that a failure to address ESG matters can be detrimental to their business, both financially and reputationally.”

ESG matters are a key part of CC’s strategy and Cohen tells us that the firm has “launched a global taskforce, our ESG board. This pools, develops, and disseminates expertise to fast-track our ESG focus and capabilities.” For context, Cohen explains that “companies are increasingly aware that a failure to address ESG matters can be detrimental to their business, both financially and reputationally. There’s a tidal wave of investors, employees, customers and stakeholders putting pressure on companies to drive for a more sustainable future, environmentally and socially, organized through good governance.”

The Work



Almost two-thirds of the associates on our list were based in the New York office and the rest called DC home. Those who’d enter as summers get to join one of CC’s broad transactional or litigation-oriented ‘pools’ and remain generalists for their first few years of practice. Laterals can either join one of these pools, or join a specific practice. The firm has designated work coordinators who dish out assignments: “They touch base with you every week,” one interviewee commented, “but people do reach out to you as well. The system works as well as can be expected, and the firm does put a lot of effort into it. There’s very good communication between the groups.”

Learn about Clifford Chance's regulatory group here.

On the transactional side, juniors can sample pretty much everything deal-based, including M&A, private equity, fund formation, capital markets, real estate, asset finance, banking & finance, and structured finance work. “You get staffed on network deals, where you assist with elements in other countries,” a source told us. “So, London will be like ‘Hey, we need you to review this document for this deal.’” Interviewees told us that they were able to run the more standard deals and work in lean teams: “There are a few deals where it will just be me, the counsel and the partner. I’ll do everything from the ground up.” CC “excels at structured finance,” one proud junior informed us, who added that deals on this front “are like assembling big puzzles. I am generally the point of contact for parties on the deal and some of the matters have been trailblazing – it’s cool to successfully pull them off!”

Corporate M&A clients: CVC Capital Partners, Pfizer, Mondelēz International. Advised private investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice on its $4 billion public to private bid for UDG Healthcare.

Those inlitigation told us that their work had mainly been a mix of white-collar investigations and securities cases: “On the white-collar side we do more defenses of individuals, while securities is more about representing banks, hedge funds, and investment groups.” The international scope is evident here as well, especially “on complaints filed for a foreign government – you’ll be working with a lot of people in a lot of different countries.” One junior had worked on a case “that was in a multi-phase status and involved different countries. I was helping with document production, writing up protocols, managing work streams and helping to draft a motion.” They added: “I really love the complex work and the teams are all super helpful – I can ask stupid questions!” Another was excited to tell us that they were “entrusted with doing tasks I wouldn’t have dreamed of until I was a third or fourth year!”

Litigation clients: Swedbank, Bank of Montreal, Santander Bank. Advising the founder of UK tech outfit Autonomy on the UK and US aspects of criminal investigations and civil litigation tied to allegations of accounting improprieties at the company.

Career Development       



All associates are assigned a career development mentor (usually a partner “in an area you’re interested in”) from the off. Juniors meet with their mentor on a quarterly basis, “and when we do it’s a really substantive experience with feedback.” On that substantive note: our interviewees were keen to emphasize that CC’s size meant they got meaningful experience early on: “We’re punching a bit above our weight as first years, exploring work at a higher level than most people at other firms – you get to work on substantive issues.” Another source added that “to be running a deal as a second-year feels quite rare.” On that practical level, “I definitely get the sense that they’re developing and matching you with opportunities that fit your skill level.”

A whole host of “valuable trainings and CLEs” also help to move juniors along in their careers, but do they want to stay? The proof is in the pudding, as this source revealed: “We’ve all gotten calls about lateral offers, but we haven’t taken them.” Ultimately, “a lot of people are dedicated to CC,” although it was felt that “it definitely takes a little longer to make partner here compared to some other firms – it’s more like eight to ten years here.” Another perceived plus was that “people go on client secondments all the time here,” so relationships can be forged early on. This source highlighted how they can be cultivated while working at the firm, too: “I get priority client contact sometimes, so I can develop that relationship.”

Pro Bono



The stance is clear and simple at CC: “All of our pro bono work is billable, and we can do whatever we want!” One interviewee said: “People tell you to prioritize it just as you would your other billables,” while another underlined how “any time there’s a request for help on a pro bono matter it’s taken up really quickly.” CC encourages all attorneys to do at least 50 pro bono hours a year, and has a dedicated pro bono partner to dish out assignments there's “a portal that flags matters and opportunities – you can put yourself on a list so that a client can reach out to you.” There are some high-profile litigation matters that come in, thanks to a partner’s “contacts with the government and the DA’s office – she brings in some significant appellate cases.”

“We submitted an amicus brief, interviewed international students to get their perspectives, and drafted how the proposals broke institutional rights.”

Associates spoke of many initiatives and collaborations, including projects with My Sisters’ Place and work with the NAPABA (National Asian Pacific American Bar Association) related to hate crimes committed against Asian Americans. Veterans matters, as well as adoption and family cases were quite common endeavors for juniors. One matter that stood out to associates was Harvard and MIT’s case against the Trump administration over the proposal to scrap visas for overseas students if they did not attend classes in person during the height of the pandemic: “We submitted an amicus brief, interviewed international students to get their perspectives, and drafted how the proposals broke institutional rights.”

Pro bono hours

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

Culture



“The culture is something that people are very hesitant to leave behind,” a source commented, so we were curious to find out what made it so great. The lockstep compensation structure was viewed as bringing out the best in people: “It definitely makes a difference in that people are a lot more cooperative – it’s all about the client.” This interviewee agreed and told us that “everyone collaborates across all matters, and we make sure that everyone’s input is heard.” The small dimensions of the US offices meant that “you end up establishing good working relationships with juniors, seniors and partners – we have a seamless understanding of each other’s priorities, which is good for clients.”

"People do like seeing each other in person, despite the pandemic.”

This translates into a healthy social life at CC. “We’re definitely a very social firm,” said one interviewee, “and we have a lot of evening events – there have been two or three happy hours in the past six weeks, and the funds team went paintballing, for instance. People do like seeing each other in person, despite the pandemic.” Juniors also praised the firm for hosting “a lot of virtual events, for better or worse,” during the worst months of the pandemic. “I generally have not been miserable at all,” concluded one associate when summing up the cultural life at CC, which is a win in our eyes!

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: No billable target for the first two years. Third year onward: 2,000 hours.

Interviewees were glad to report that “for your first two years, your billable hours don’t really matter and your bonus is more or less guaranteed.”  This doesn’t mean that juniors can just sit around, however: “We’re expected to work eight hours a day, 40 hours a week – that’s 100% capacity.” Market rate salaries and bonuses kept our sources more than happy, as did the lockstep approach to compensation. Insiders notified us that they typically work between 40 and 55 hours a week, and despite the “feast or famine” reality of transactional work, “it all balances out in the end.”

The increase in remote working has blurred the line between home and work, because “you’ll always be close to your desk – it’s a challenge everyone has had, even the partners.” One associate told us that they “get emails at 11pm and I’m like… now? Really??” but even before remote working “it wasn’t unusual to be in the office at ten or elevenbecause it’s an international firm you do get things at odd times, due to the time difference.” Most associates agreed that they’d “rather work late some evenings during the week to secure the weekend.” Weekend work can occur – “maybe once every three weeks, it’s not all weekends” – and juniors felt that the firm “does try its best to honor your weekends… and your holidays!”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



When it comes to recruitment and representation, “CC is definitely, actively trying,” and sources were enthusiastic about the diversity present in incoming associate classes. “We do not have the most diverse partnership, but the firm would be the first to admit it,” a source commented, highlighting that CC had hosted “an unfiltered opinion panel, where we could speak about whatever came to mind, and the firm definitely knows that work needs to be done in the diversity department.” Another interviewee praised CC for its openness and willingness to communicate: “The culture is very, very healthy. They are really trying to connect, and we have had so many discussions – they say ‘We can’t make a decision without knowing what you think.’”

"There’s usually a big event every month, whether that’s a social or a panel discussion."

The various affinity groups at CC were described as “very active – there’s usually a big event every month, whether that’s a social or a panel discussion, and it’s open for anyone from the firm to attend.” The firm’s participation in Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Certification program was also commended, as it refined approaches to boast recruitment and retention: “They get people from different backgrounds on recruitment panels and the firm has to consider diverse candidates for positions.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 583

Interviewees outside OCI: 34

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.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 268

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.

Summer program

Offers: 102

Acceptances: 40 (includes our 1L's and SEO)

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 and 45 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.

Interview with Evan Cohen, Clifford Chance’s regional managing partner for the Americas



Chambers Associate: What is your firm's strategy and how do you expect the next year to unfold?

Evan Cohen: Our strategy – Right Markets, Right Clients, Right Work, Best Team, Best Delivery – provides a clear framework and platform for continued success. The strategy has our clients firmly at its heart.

The combination of our Finance and Capital Markets practices is an incredibly strong market proposition. Our aim is to be seen by banks, financial investor and corporate enterprise clients as the world's leading integrated finance and capital market​ practice. Focus areas for the year ahead include Sustainable Finance, Projects & Infrastructure, Asset Finance, Financial Services Regulatory and Big Bank M&A. 

Our tech group of more than 600 lawyers takes a different approach to helping clients solve tech challenges. Tech is in our DNA - we deliver holistic strategic legal advice to guide businesses through the complex business challenges presented by tech and digital disruption - our focus extends across Antitrust, M&A & Investments, IP, Litigation, Tax, Pensions & Employment, Cyber, Fintech, Proptech, Healthtech and more.

We advise clients the world over on sustainable business transition and transformation, offering global coverage and technical excellence in the major aspects of ESG. The climate emergency, imperative social issues, and increased importance of effective governance require advice and support from the forefront of ESG developments, as part of achieving the Just Transition.

We focus on climate change, energy transition, sustainable finance, business & human rights, inclusion & diversity, and stakeholder governance, regulatory & trade, and corporate governance & director's obligations.

CA: What are your core practice areas and sector focuses?

EC: In the Americas region, we consider ourselves a full-service firm advising domestic and multinational clients on US-law matters in the US, Latin America and across global markets.

With regional offices in New York, Washington, DC and São Paulo, 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.

Our dedicated Latin America group is comprised of bilingual and culturally fluent lawyers who understand the region's distinct business, legal and regulatory landscapes.

They advise on complex transactions that are often at the forefront in the development of new markets, assisting clients on matters involving energy and infrastructure projects, mergers and acquisitions, and the delivery of cutting-edge finance and capital markets structures.

We also offer a broader team of US-qualified lawyers based in offices across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the UK, leveraging the Firm's preeminent network to assist clients seamlessly in cross-border matters involving US law.

CA: How would you define your firm's place in the legal market?

EC: We are a high-quality, multi-practice US firm serving US, international and multinational clients seeking a world-class global platform. We truly are a full-service firm advising domestic and multinational clients on US-law matters in the US, Latin America and across global markets.

On the ground - 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.

CA: What are the most significant trends in the legal market that you feel students should know about?

EC:Companies are increasingly aware that a failure to address ESG matters can be detrimental to their business, both financially and reputationally. There’s a tidal wave of investors, employees, customers and stakeholders putting pressure on companies to drive for a more sustainable future, environmentally and socially, organized through good governance.

Public policies are a key driver behind this increased focus on ESG, particularly when it comes to the environment. It is very interesting to see the different policies that governments across the world are implementing and how much the agenda changes depending on which party has power. For instance, the Biden-Harris administration has made it clear from day one that tackling the climate crisis is a priority. The recent COP26 Forum brought these issues to the world stage in a way that we've not seen before.

Public policy can accelerate the pace of change. There is no question that entire businesses and industries are impacted by these policies, and they in turn help shape the businesses of the future. As lawyers, this is an incredible time to be practicing!

Another key area is the accelerated digitalisation of all aspects of our lives and business. Tech is one of our Firm's strategic priorities and we have been investing in our capability there for some time. Businesses have sought informed advice that combines deep digital, data, IP and cyber knowledge with sector insight and broad-based legal and regulatory capability. The global coronavirus pandemic swiftly moved digital transformation and tech related issues such as cyber security to the top of the board agenda for businesses in all sectors resulting in significant growth for our highly successful and fast growing global Tech Group.

Artificial intelligence is another exciting area. How we use it, and safeguard it, is up to us - like it or not, it will touch every aspect of our lives, including in our professions. Its use often facilitates our most important and trivial interactions, be it with friends and our families, or our work, our health, and services. We need to understand our relationship with it and where society should demand controls on its use.

We commissioned a report recently on AI and perceptions across the globe from tech policy professionals and found that while artificial intelligence is perceived to be a likely net good for society and the economy, there is a concern that it will entrench existing inequalities, benefitting bigger businesses (78% positive effect from AI) more than the young (42% positive effective) or those from minority groups (23% positive effect).

CA: What advice do you have for students and junior associates who are just about to embark/have just embarked on their legal career?

EC: I'd suggest that students and junior associates really take some time to try to uncover what type of work they want to do. If interested in international work, think about what international component you're going to bring to the table, e.g., language, travel experience. I am based in NY, but I work with people all over the world every day, and comfort and familiarity with other cultures is very helpful.

Pick an area that you are passionate about and become the subject matter expert on that. Read the news, speak with clients and peers, and establish a level of knowledge that will deliver value to those who you interact with (i.e., clients). Further - the lawyers of the future are going to have to exist both on screen and in person. To be successful in that environment, you have to master interacting with people in both ways.

There's been this debate of remote vs. in person work, but it's a false duality. You will need to exist in both worlds. So how are you going to show that you can thrive in both environments? This goes further to soft skills. Lawyers who can actively engage, listen, interpret and communicate immediately stand out to me. It helps to be tech-savvy, and aware of your own 'brand' – identifying the need for a strong profile (within your firm, with clients, and online) is a great first step. Continuing investment in evolving your own profile will ensure you continue to build relationships as you develop professionally.

 

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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022

Ranked Departments

    • 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)
    • 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: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)

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