As Clifford Chance would have it, seamless integration across international offices combined with small-team collaboration is a recipe for success.
They say that chance favors the prepared mind, and at Clifford Chance, you’ll be well prepped if you’re ready to try your hand at some serious international collaboration on large-scale global matters, all while surrounded by the comfort of familiar faces. The firm’s broad reach was invariably attractive to the associates we interviewed, but ultimately, it was the firm’s cozy dimensions that sealed the deal. “I wanted to do international work, but it was the vibes and the small-team scale that convinced me,” one interviewee told us. Clifford Chance (or CC, as we’ve affectionately dubbed it) has but two branches in the US (New York and DC), and each cohort of new associates is made up of around 30 in New York and ten in DC – much smaller than some of the firm’s US-grown counterparts.
“Although the firm’s footprint in the US is smaller, our clients are a lot more international than some other firms.”
But this is far from just a small-scale outfit we’re dealing with. “Although the firm’s footprint in the US is smaller, our clients are a lot more international than some other firms,” one interviewee noted. CC’s two US outposts are backed by the firm’s longstanding position as British legal royalty. This ‘magic circle’ prince has successfully set up shop in all continents bar one (and that’s Antarctica, so we’ll forgive them). With 31 offices and counting, the firm is well positioned to achieve its target of “making sure the work we do reflects the important issues that are going on in the world,” head of US legal recruiting Sarah Posner tells us. It’s this approach that undoubtedly garners the attention of Chambers Global, which showers the firm with more than 250 rankings. In the US alone, CC snags 16 Chambers USA rankings, with particular commendation awarded to its work in corporate crime & investigations, agency financing projects, and aviation finance.
Strategy & Future
It’ll come as no surprise to discover that the firm has its sights set on growth in the US. “Clifford Chance is no longer identified as a magic circle firm; we are global, and continue to create a real name and space for ourselves in the US,” Posner tells us. The firm’s corporate practices remain its bread and butter, with Posner explaining that “tech, the energy transition, and healthcare/life sciences are big drivers in the market and core focuses for us.” Meanwhile, “on the litigation side, white-collar and securities litigation are areas we’re looking to expand, and we have done so via partner recruitment in New York and DC.”
And it’s not just growth at the top that the firm is focused on. “We’re growing on the entry level side too by bringing in larger summer classes,” says Posner. The New York office is also set to be moving to a new location in 2024, which Posner describes as “a bigger and brighter space, to match where we’re going and where we see ourselves.” However, as Posner continues, “we don’t want to grow for growth’s sake. We want to be strategic and thoughtful, in terms of both practice areas and also the people we bring in.”
The majority of juniors are based in New York, while the rest are a short distance away in DC. Upon joining the firm, newbies choose between litigation or transactional work, with those who have opted for the latter placed in an assignment pool. This pool allows associates to try out a variety of practices. “You get a very holistic view of what transactional legal work is so you can make an informed decision about specialization,” one associate explained. While some make the most of the flexibility, others decide to specialize early on, joining specific practices like general corporate; real estate; or global financial markets. A dedicated assignment coordinator monitors workloads and hands out tasks to all associates for their first few years of practice. “They’re the primary form of work assignment,” an interviewee explained, “but work can also naturally start to come to you based on the relationships that you’re building.”
The transactional pool broadly covers corporate/M&A, bankruptcy, real estate, asset financing, and global financial markets. Once immersed, associates will get the chance to dabble in most of the groups. “It’s very well rounded,” one source praised. “The clients are all very different, and I get to work with all the partners in the group. In fact, there’s no one I haven’t worked with!” Newbies’ daily to-do lists “include all the traditional first-year associate tasks, like managing a closing checklist, drafting emails, doing a lot of circulation of documents for review, and maintaining a working group list.” But responsibility doesn’t end there: “You’re also holding the pen as the first to draft a lot of documents,” an interviewee explained.
Transactional clients: J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs. Advised Hitachi on the acquisition of French electrical manufacturer Thales Group’s rail signaling and train control systems business.
The general litigation practice at CC encompasses a range of areas, including white-collar and money laundering investigations, commodities, and international arbitration. Doc review is in the name of the game – “it’s the core of an investigation!” – but that’s only the start of the responsibility juniors get. “I’ve managed the entire process of a case all the way through, which makes me the factual and legal expert on that matter!” one associate enthused. Another noted: “Our teams are smaller in size by numbers than most US firms, and with fewer hands responsibility comes quicker.” For instance, one interviewee explained that they had drafted pleadings, communicated with clients and counterparties, and even done cross-examinations and prepped witnesses for hearings – all before their third year! But fret not, they were quick to assure us a helping hand was never too far away. “Even though I was assigned those things, there was always a senior associate asking me how I was doing,” they added. “They would jump in on client calls and call me again afterwards to provide feedback and next steps.”
Litigation clients: NatWest’s investment banking arm, NatWest Markets; the Government of Sri Lanka; ICBC Standard Bank. Advised Dr. Mike Lynch, British entrepreneur, in connection with civil litigation and criminal investigations in the UK and US.
Juniors are assigned a career development partner who mentors them and checks in on their progress. “There’s very much an open-door policy here,” one associate explained. “They’re invested in our long-term growth,” we heard, while others mentioned the existence of ad hoc secondments that enable associates to “work with clients to learn what issues they’re facing and how we can best help them.”
“Within your first month you’re shooting off emails to clients.”
But regardless of whether you’re on a secondment, or in your home office, juniors get tons of client contact: “Within your first month you’re shooting off emails to clients.” And for those who want a head start on thinking about partnership, partners are available to point juniors in the right direction. For instance, one associate explained that “partners have involved me in client engagement and the economic side of cases. I now have that sense of the skills you need and that we need to generate revenue and look for opportunities to grow our network.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking CC was an acronym for collaborative culture rather than Clifford Chance. “The firm genuinely cares about your family, your extracurriculars, and your day-to-day,” one interviewee gushed. “When things are hard, no one’s afraid to speak up and say, ‘I have a little too much on my plate at the moment,’ and people understand.”
“People take and encourage breaks, and they always ask if you have plans before giving you work.”
Others commented on the international aspects of the culture: even though they were tucked away in the depths of Midtown Manhattan, associates could feel the influence of the firm’s British beginnings. “People take and encourage breaks, and they always ask if you have plans before giving you work,” one interview explained. Another was amazed at how “the culture is present in every office I’ve worked with so far. We’ve never felt like just a branch.” This boils down to more than just camaraderie among associates: “From the partnership down, no one is inaccessible. Everyone makes themselves available and welcomes drop-ins to their offices.” Associates also praised the firm’s efforts on the social front post-COVID, with multiple interviewees sounding off about plans for pizza parties, informal office drinks, and a whole lot of karaoke!
Pro bono at CC is unlimited and all of it can count toward associates’ billable requirements, which our interviewees felt was indicative of the firm’s supportive stance on pro bono work. In fact, “there have even been associates with more pro bono than billable hours… It’s not a big issue!” an interviewee assured us. This approach was highly valued by our sources: “Coming in from law school, we tend to only know what our textbooks have taught us. Being able to understand the human element has been so eye-opening.”
Associates looking to get involved can do so through the firm’s pro bono portal and regular emails detailing opportunities. CC has also recently appointed a dedicated pro bono partner. What’s more, “the firm also encourages associates to go out and find topic areas they’d want to dedicate time to. If you bring it in, there’ll be a partner who will help you.” There are a range of causes to take part in – mostly in litigation, with a few transactional opportunities – such as immigration and nonprofit work. “We recently wrote an amicus brief for SIFMA (the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association) for a third court of appeals,” an interviewee detailed, while others were involved on matters for My Sisters’ Place, a nonprofit offering legal services to women suffering abuse. The firm also works with Lawyers for Good Government, the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD), and the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement or target
Interviewees were happy to report that the firm is quick to match market shifts in compensation. The lack of a billable requirement was appreciated by newbies: “As a junior, you’re not in control of the amount of work you have. They don’t want to punish people for that.” With that in mind, it’s still important for first and second years to “show you’re responsible and can get things done.”
“No one’s saying you need to bill, bill, bill!”
Across the firm more generally, “no one stresses about a billable target. No one’s saying you need to bill, bill, bill!” Indeed: there's no minimum amount of hours that associates must reach to become bonus eligible. As the BigLaw story goes, there are ebbs and flows; day-to-day hours vary, but associates are typically clocked in from 8am or 9am to around 7pm, with some “working into the wee hours of the night” when necessary. On that note, it’s generally abnormal for associates to pull all-nighters, and “you’re not expected to be hyperresponsive on weekends,” with a source adding: “I don’t feel like I have to tell people where I am on a Sunday – that would be unusual!” We’re inclined to agree. When associates are inevitably working especially hard, the firm is quick to recognize their efforts. “I had one particularly busy transaction and a really busy month,” one junior explained. “Our assignment coordinator reached out to me and asked if I was doing okay. They offered extra support on my matter, and even asked if I wanted them to staff someone else.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“The firm is making a concerted effort to hire more women as junior associates in hopes they’ll progress and improve the balance at the leadership level,” a source explained of CC’s DE&I efforts. However, our sources felt there was room for improvement when it came to other forms of diversity, but not for lack of trying on the firm’s part. “It’s not quite where it should be right now,” one associate noted, “but I like where it’s going.”
On the back of its seventh consecutive year participating in the Mansfield Rule initiative, the firm has introduced several DE&I initiatives, including a diversity scholarship for 1Ls and another upcoming scholarship for 2Ls in both DC and New York. Posner also highlights the ‘Candid Conversations’ initiative, which sees the firm hosting a panel for potential recruits where attorneys and business professionals from the New York and DC offices discuss what it is like to be diverse in BigLaw. The panel was received well by our interviewees who commended the firm for being “comfortable speaking in such an unfiltered way to students.” Across the Americas, the firm has six active DE&I subcommittees (including a recently added working parents group) which, as one source praised, “promote inclusion and try to work with local communities so associates get exposure to what’s going on in the cities they live in.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 540
Interviewees outside OCI: 25
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.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 224
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.
Acceptances: 35 (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 35 and 40 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,
31 W 52nd Street,
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 2023:
• 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; 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 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, an all-day interactive "Hackathon" led by our Best Delivery team where our clerks compete to create a bot designed to solve or simplify a real firm problem, as well as a variety of outside speakers presenting on everything from how to thrive in BigLaw to topical DE&I issues and events. Feedback is given on a formal and informal basis, allowing our clerks to have a clear idea of their development.
Recruitment website: https://careers.cliffordchance.com/usa/home.html#/1careerdetail
US Twitter: @CC_Americas
UK Twitter: @Clifford_Chance
LinkedIn: clifford-chance-americas (https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/clifford-chance-americas)
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
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- 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: 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)