Training partner interview – Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Please explain your role as graduate recruitment/training partner.

As the training principal I have overall responsibility for ensuring that our trainees obtain the skills and experiences they need in order to become successful qualified solicitors. The trainee programme is overseen in London by a committee of four partners (of which I am one), together with our dedicated HR team. That committee meets regularly to discuss seat allocation, staffing issues and any other matters related to the trainees. Each of us mentors two or three individual trainees on a one-to-one basis, meeting with them regularly throughout the two year training contract. In addition, I have breakfast with all of the first year trainees every month to check in and make sure everyone is happy with how things are going.

What work do your trainees get involved in?

Our trainees have direct exposure to client work from day 1. We aim to give them as much responsibility as they feel comfortable with as early as possible. We believe in ‘learning by doing’, so aim to make our trainees integrated members of our deal teams. The precise nature of the work depends on the practice group the trainee is sitting in, but because we do not have rigidly defined departments the diet of work is often varied – just because you are sitting with a finance lawyer doesn’t mean you won’t get opportunities to work on other matters.

How does your training contract differ from other firms?

Although we’re a big office, our trainee intake is still small enough to be able to tailor our training contract to each individual’s aspirations. We hope that our trainees should gain exposure to as many different practice areas as possible, so that they can become well-rounded lawyers that can thrive in our non-departmentalised office. Our practice groups collaborate with each other closely, so we usually work with our trainees throughout the 2 year programme. That allows us to get to know them better, develop faster, and gain more responsibility quicker.

What does a strong application look like?

Like all City firms we look for strong academics. Beyond that, we are looking for energetic and intellectually curious people who have the street smarts to roll their sleeves up and figure things out, adopting practical solutions. This is a people business, so outgoing and charismatic candidates who are willing to help others out are often successful here.

What impresses you about students when you meet them at fairs?

Students looking to work in a City law firm now have so much choice. Although we all do the same sorts of things, we are all quite different. So I am always impressed by students who have done a bit of homework and ask smart questions. It’s important for students to develop a deep understanding of what the different firms are like – you spend so much of your adult life at work it is critical that you work somewhere you’ll be happy and fulfilled in the work. We always ask our associates to be 100% honest with candidates about what it is like to work here, so students should ask as many questions as they can.