Survey Results - Trainee feedback on Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘The vacation scheme was far and away the best one I did’, ‘it is known for giving its lawyers more flexibility to shape their own practices’, ‘straightforward application process’, ‘very international’, ‘smaller intake’, ‘very strong profile in work for sovereigns’, ‘quality over quantity approach to work’, ‘friendly lawyers’, ‘I wanted to do cutting-edge legal work’, ‘top of the industry’

Best thing about the firm? ‘The independence and responsibility is liberating’, ‘the new office’, ‘friendliness of fellow lawyers’, ‘interaction with international offices’, ‘flat structure – it is not stuffy at all’, ‘independent learning – you are not rote taught’, ‘the collegiate atmosphere’, ‘lovely people who are all approachable despite having very high standards’, ‘quality of work’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘The independence and responsibility can be daunting’, ‘seems difficult to retain good mid-senior level associates’, ‘unclear seat allocation process’, ‘work/life balance’, ‘office gossip’, ‘hours can be long and explanations from busy associates brief’, ‘understaffed at times’, ‘the workload’, ‘occasionally tough hours’, ‘opacity behind certain HR decisions’

Best moment? ‘My secondment to Hong Kong’, ‘business trips abroad to Istanbul’, ‘receiving good feedback for a tough research task and for a presentation I did’, ‘working on high-profile deals’, ‘meeting with clients and contributing more than I had anticipated’, ‘secondment to Washington DC’, ‘the office ski trip’, ‘assisting on the closing of a deal’, ‘bringing a client to the firm’

Worst moment? ‘Finding out I almost certainly won’t get either of the international secondments that I wanted’, ‘some senior lawyers can be difficult to manage’, ‘working long hours on multiple deals can be exhausting’, ‘doing non-billable newsletters’, ‘being in the office at 2am doing doc review’, ‘staying late’, ‘feeling helpless the first time I received a call from a client on my direct line’

The Lex 100 verdict on Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

The firm: US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is highly regarded for its M&A, private equity and acquisition finance work. Its client list includes international and national business organisations, financial institutions and sovereign governments.

The deals: Advised 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney Co. on anti-trust matters in Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of the television and film assets of 21st Century Fox; advised Vale in London Court of International Arbitration proceedings securing a $2 billion victory; advised Greece in its €2.5 billion five year bond issuance; represented ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, on its divestiture of steel plants in Romania, Czech Republic, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Macedonia in a series of deals valued at approximately €1.4 billion; advised the Government of Barbados in its US$5.95 billion-equivalent Barbados dollar-denominated debt restructuring, a central pillar of the economic reform programme supported by the International Monetary Fund.

The clients: American Express; Argentina; Citigroup; Coca-Cola; Goldman Sachs; Google; Russian Federation; Sony; TPG Capital; Warburg Pincus.

The star performers:
(Top-ranking departments according to The Legal 500 – see for more details) Acquisition finance; Bank lending: investment grade debt and syndicated loans; Banking litigation: investment and retail; Commercial litigation; Competition litigation; Corporate tax; Debt capital markets; Equity capital markets; EU and competition; Finance: high yield; Fraud: civil; International arbitration; M&A: upper mid-market and premium deals, £250m+; Private equity: transactions – high-value deals.

The verdict

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton’s distinguishing features are its ‘international work and headline-grabbing sovereign deals’. Many trainees had been ‘impressed by the professionalism and expertise of the lawyers encountered on the vacation scheme’ and were comforted that ‘the people are very driven and smart but not arrogant’. The ’emphasis is on learning on the job’, although there are occasional ‘formal training sessions for particular hot topics’. Trainees are ‘assigned substantive tasks’ and are ‘brought onto matters at an early stage’ so that ‘skills and experience are developed first-hand’. Recruits feel ‘valued as an important part of the team’ and are pleased that their ‘opinions and observations are considered noteworthy’. On a related note, Cleary is a Lex 100 Winner for confidence of being kept on post qualification. Whilst the independence afforded to trainees can be ‘liberating’, there is no doubt that this approach to training results in a ‘steep learning curve’ which ‘can be stressful at times’. Hours can be long and schedules extremely unpredictable; some recruits begrudged the ‘on-call mentality and lack of respect for personal time’. For example, ‘working on weekends, holidays and sick days’ is certainly not unheard of and this can ‘begin to affect your personal and social life’. The upside is being deeply involved in hard-hitting deals: ‘working exclusively on a matter with a partner’ and ‘being given increasing responsibility to the point where you are essentially the associate on the deal’ are good examples. Other highlights included going on international secondments and the ‘acculturation seminar in Milan’. If a firm which is ‘regularly hired for front-page matters’ matches your aspirations, consider Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

A day in the life of… Chloe Hassard, second-seat trainee, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Chloe Hassard, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Departments to date: Employment; Competition

University: St Catharine's College University of Cambridge

Degree: Law

9.00am: Every six weeks the trainees have breakfast with two trainee committee partners and a member of HR. This is an informal, relaxed opportunity to discuss various aspects of our training contracts and to ask questions. Today we are providing feedback on our recent induction weekend in the Milan office.

10.00am: Once at my desk, I manage my inbox and create a plan for my day. I am sitting in Competition and currently working on a merger case involving frequent contact with Brazilian and Mexican local counsel. The time differences mean that updates are often provided overnight. I also review email alerts received from a number of press publications.

10.30am: My first substantive task is legal research. I am reviewing case law and journal articles that concern price signalling, searching for material that could be helpful in responding to cartel allegations. I enjoy the legal analysis and creative thinking that is involved in crafting detailed, robust defence arguments.

1.00pm: As a member of the Women’s Working Group, I attend a lunchtime meeting to discuss initial ideas for a client event. The WWG is an equality, diversity and inclusion sub-committee dedicated to supporting women across the office. We initiate a number of events focused on a variety of topics collectively considered to be important for the London office agenda.

1.30pm: After lunch, a video conference call is scheduled with our Brussels office to discuss the alleged cartel case. We update each other on the progression of our various work streams and decide next steps. Regular calls of this nature ensure we know our case, all of its constituent strands, and of course, our team.

2.00pm: Following the update call, I read a case that was highlighted by another team member as possibly relevant for my research. I read the judgment and accompanying academic commentary to identify helpful nuances and points of distinction. I also review the precedents relied on throughout the judgment and the cases cited in footnotes.

3.30pm: This afternoon I attend a meeting on my current pro bono matter. In collaboration with two other law firms, we are drafting a model law against female genital mutilation in Africa. We review our working draft to ensure the definition of the offence is suitably comprehensive, and discuss the appropriate standard of proof to include. I greatly enjoy pro bono work because it provides an opportunity to work on legal matters entirely separate from my seat, with colleagues in other practice areas.

4.00pm: Friday treats! Staff across the office take turns to provide sweet treats and snacks for their neighbouring colleagues on Friday afternoons.

4.15pm: Once back at my desk, I work on a UK merger matter and draft a section of a merger notification. I am describing the competitive environment within the industry concerned, looking specifically at the various competitors currently operating in the market, those who have recently entered the sector and those with plans to expand.

5.30pm: After I submit my draft, I turn back to my price signalling legal research and begin assembling my findings into a written memorandum. Drafting the memo enables me to think about how the various legal precedents fit together, how the different factual scenarios of the precedents diverge from our client’s case, and how the numerous sources can be used in our written advocacy.

7.00pm: At the end of each busy week, the trainees usually make a group trip to the pub. We studied the LPC together and attended Cleary’s LPC+ programme prior to joining, meaning we know each other really well and have become great friends.

About the firm

Managing partner: Michael Gerstenzang

Other offices: New York, Washington DC, Paris, Brussels, Moscow, Frankfurt, Cologne, Rome, Milan, Hong Kong, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Abu Dhabi and Seoul.

Who we are: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP is a leading international law firm with 16 closely integrated offices located in major financial and political centres around the world.

What we do: Core areas of practice in London are M&A, financing and restructuring, capital markets, international litigation and arbitration, and competition. In addition there are successful self-standing practices in tax, financial regulation, and IP and IT.

What we’re looking for: We look for candidates who are enthusiastic about the practice of law in a challenging and dynamic international setting. While academic excellence is a pre-requisite, we place particular emphasis on recruiting candidates with whom we and our clients enjoy working. A sense of humour is as important as the ability to think critically.

What you’ll do: By recruiting 15-20 trainees each year we are able to offer bespoke training that is tailored to our trainees’ interests, experience and aptitudes. We encourage our trainee solicitors to accept increased responsibility as soon as they are ready to do so.

Perks: 25 days’ holiday, employer pension contribution, gym membership subsidy, private healthcare, life insurance, long-term disability insurance, dental insurance, employee assistance programme, childcare vouchers, Bright Horizons back-up care and subsidised staff restaurant.

Sponsorship: LPC and GDL funding. A maintenance grant of £8,000 is paid for each year of professional study.