One of the "Magic Circle" firms, London-based Clifford Chance LLP is one of the world's largest law firms, with nearly 2,500 legal advisors working in 23 countries around the globe, and one of the top five grossing law firms in the world. The approximately 200s attorneys in the firm's two U.S. offices, in New York and Washington, D.C., perform "varied and often complex" work in the firm's core practice areas of banking, securities, finance, international arbitration and litigation, and regulatory law. The firm's clients include major international financial institutions and corporations, as well as governments and multilateral agencies. Although being a truly international firm has its benefits, such as “the ability to do a secondment in a foreign office,” Lateral Link Members note that one downside is that the U.S. offices feel like “small . . . satellite” offices of the firm. Although associates at Clifford Chance work “long hours,” Members say that at least “fellow associates are great to work with.” Though still a global powerhouse, Clifford Chance has suffered during the economic downturn: its 2009 revenue fell by 5%, and profits per equity partner plummeted by 37%.
Chambers Top Departments: Capital Markets: Structured Products (#2), REITs (#1); Projects: PPP (#2), Power (#2)
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Salaries at Clifford Chance follow a set lockstep schedule, with first-year associates starting at $160,000. In terms of bonuses, the firm typically follows the market leader, as it did by matching the Cravath scale for 2010 bonuses as well as 2011 spring bonuses, and the top-of-the-market Sullivan & Cromwell scale for 2011 year-end bonuses. Lateral Link Members report that the firm is not transparent about what bonuses are based on.
First- and second-year transactional associates rotate through at least three of the four corporate groups – Banking & Financial Restructuring, Corporate Finance (capital markets), M&A (including private equity) and Financial Products – before choosing a permanent group at the beginning of the their third year. Lateral Link Members report that although the firm strives to make its staffing practices fair, in reality “[s]taffing decisions vary wildly depending on which sub-group of Corporate you are in. Some have organic work flow procedures[,] where others are extremely rigid in the process.” Thus, depending on their department, associates may be responsible for finding work or may be assigned work by an attorney in their practice area. Clifford Chance emphasizes on-the-job training, but the firm also offers regular, formal training sessions and a unique global business skills curriculum as part of the Clifford Chance Academy. Lateral Link Members call the training “great,” and agree that the mix of formal and informal training provides sufficient opportunities for associates. Since the start of the global financial crisis, the firm has undergone several rounds of layoffs. In October 2008, the firm laid off 20 U.S. litigators, followed by 70-80 London lawyers in January 2009, 24 New York transactional attorneys in March 2009, and several more New York litigators in June 2009. Although the firm has been generally “open about layoffs,” Lateral Link Members report that the firm quietly laid off associates in 2010. Current associate morale at the firm covers the whole spectrum, from “good” to “low.”
The firm offers four weeks of vacation time, and Lateral Link Members say that most attorneys take advantage of the majority of their vacation allotment. While on vacation, associates are expected to check their BlackBerrys, and although uncommon, Members report that associates may have to cancel vacation for work. The importance of face time varies by practice area and partner, but the consensus is that attorneys are expected to be in the office during normal working hours. One Lateral Link Member notes that unless a certain amount of face time is put in, “partners forget that you exist.” Outside of normal working hours, Lateral Link Members agree that associates are expected to be checking their BlackBerrys constantly. Associates who have to work on weekends usually do so only for a portion of the weekend, and it is uncommon for associates to work on holidays unless they are busy. The firm offers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, and four weeks of paid paternity leave.
Although there is no official minimum billable hours requirement, Lateral Link Members report that associates are expected to bill at least 1,800 hours annually to receive a bonus. A potential consequence of not meeting that expectation is a reduced or no bonus.
Clifford Chance recommends that its attorneys perform 50 hours of pro bono work annually, but there is no mandatory requirement. All pro bono work is given the same consideration as other client work in determining billable hours and bonuses.
The firm has a two-tier partnership system. Associates are eligible for non-equity partnership after an average of eight to ten years and become eligible for equity partnership after an additional two to three years. However, most Lateral Link Members say that the chances of making partner at the firm are “very, very difficult” at best for both homegrown and lateral associates alike, with one Lateral Link Member noting that “[l]uck, luck and working incessantly” seem to be the most important factors in the determination. Following the firm’s announcement in 2009 that the partnership would be restructured and up to 15% of partners would be asked to leave, within a span of six months, 20 New York partners left for other firms.
The firm reimburses bar review course and exam expenses, and provides a $10,000 relocation stipend for new associates. All associates enjoy a subsidized gym membership, car service after 8:30 p.m., and access to two firm-owned vacation properties in Florida. Additionally, a subsidized, on-site cafeteria is available to associates in New York. The firm also provides a voucher for dinner for two (up to $400) if an associate bills over 250 hours to client matters in any calendar month, but finding the time to actually use the voucher is left up to the associate. New York associates do not get their own offices until their third year.
Summer associates in Clifford Chance’s New York and Washington, D.C. offices are assigned work in various practice areas by a coordinating attorney and are expected to complete 11 to 15 assignments during the 10-week summer program. Because respondents say they receive “real work,” summer associates “often stayed late, worked on weekends, and came in early to complete assignments.” On the other hand, at least one survey respondent felt that “the hardworking atmosphere came more from us, as summers, than from the partners and associates,” who “encouraged us to attend both planned and impromptu social events and not worry about work.” Survey respondents appreciate that attorneys are "approachable" and "usually take the time to explain the assignments in a bigger context." The firm holds training events for summers once or twice a week, and summer associates are provided with BlackBerrys, which they are expected to check regularly. The firm allows summer associates interested in its transactional practices to spend part of the summer in one of its international offices, which respondents describe as a “phenomenal experience that demonstrated the international, yet interconnectedness, of the firm.” The firm encourages summer associates to attend an unlimited number of attorney lunches, which are budgeted at $60 per person, and evening social events such as wine tastings, partner dinners, and Broadway shows. Respondents praise the "great mixture of formal [and] informal" events and report that "associates and partners widely participate" in them, with the only complaint being that there are "almost too many" social activities. In 2009, 24 out of 25 summer associates received offers, while in 2010, the firm made offers to all seven of the firm’s summer associates. The firm increased its 2011 summer class to 21 summer associates. Start dates for the Class of 2009 and 2010 associates were deferred and staggered. The firm also anticipates deferring incoming Class of 2011 associates to a start date in 2012.