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? ‘International opportunities and smaller office in London’, ‘the firm’s areas of strength mapped my academic and professional interest, namely competition law and international litigation’, ‘the combination of friendly, helpful colleagues and top-quality work’, ‘interactions with staff at the firm during the assessment day and recruitment events’, ‘I really liked the people I met during my vacation scheme’

Best thing about the firm? ‘The people – so smart and really lovely too’, ‘the quality of the clients and work, as well as the intellectual rigour of the people at the firm’, ‘the type of client work we are engaged in and the colleagues we get to work with, many of whom are foremost practitioners in their field’, ‘the nature of the work is interesting and the salary is very motivating’, ‘the friendly and supportive culture’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘The hours!’, ‘probably the hours’, ‘the firm could be more diverse, perhaps’, ‘work/life balance’, ‘lean project staffing means that hours can sometimes be unpredictable’, ‘the salary is higher than at comparable firms but the hours we are expected to put in are far from compensatory – on several occasions I have been informed that senior lawyers are immune to the hours’, ‘no concept of recovery days’, ‘lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making’

Best moment? ‘Receiving good feedback in my mid-seat review’, ‘managing the closing of a transaction largely on my own’, ‘excellent pro bono commitments and opportunities – I have felt very gratified participating in the TERN Refugee clinic and other Toynbee Hall initiatives’, ‘great end-of-seat feedback’, ‘closing my first deal and looking back on how much I had learnt’

Worst moment? ‘Some long nights in my second seat’, ‘working long hours’, ‘the sudden emergence of the Covid-19 lockdown and having to evacuate the office rapidly’, ‘being told to suck it up and deal with the hours after weeks of less than four to five hours of sleep a night’, ‘being given a seat in a practice area I was not interested in’, ‘working into the early hours on a task which, although was necessary for the deal, felt very process-heavy and a bit tedious’

The Lex 100 verdict on Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton ‘operates at the top of the market in all its key practice areas’. The US firm’s reputation for ‘sovereign and public institution-related work’, as well as ‘strong contentious prowess’ make it an attractive place to train. A small trainee cohort coupled with a modest office size means ‘more learning opportunities’ and ‘increased exposure to various types of work’. Rather than wait for work to be handed to them, Cleary recruits are ‘encouraged to take the initiative’ and, thanks to a ‘flexible seat structure’, can work in different areas and with different supervisors according to business need. Colleagues are ‘largely excellent to work with and approachable; this particularly extends to the graduate recruitment and HR teams who are absolutely fantastic at regularly checking in on wellbeing, work pressures and other concerns’. Impressive international secondments have earned Cleary a Lex 100 Winner award in this category. The ‘very demanding’ hours are the worst thing about the firm and the ‘duration of busy periods can often be prolonged’. ‘Working into the early hours’, and ‘a particularly time-pressured transaction resulting in a sustained period of high-intensity work’ are examples The lack of work/life balance has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with several respondents lamenting the ‘lack of boundaries’ whilst working from home. On the upside, ‘getting an offer to go to Paris on secondment for my final seat (arbitration)’ was a real high point. Other standout moments were ‘delivering a presentation which helped to generate business for the firm’ and ‘receiving a personal email from a client thanking me for my help’. To work on ‘work of world-class calibre’ in a firm with a ‘friendly and supportive culture’, consider Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.

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

The deals: Advised 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney Co. on antitrust matters in Disney’s $71.3bn acquisition of the television and film assets of 21st Century Fox, one of the largest media transactions of all time; advised Vale in London Court of International Arbitration proceedings, securing a $2bn victory, one of the largest commercial arbitration awards ever made; 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 €1.4bn; advised the Government of Barbados in its $774m external debt restructuring, a ground-breaking sovereign debt transaction which involved significant legal innovation, making Barbados the only country in the world whose public debt stock is climate resilient as a result of the inclusion of a ‘natural disaster clause’ in its debt instruments on the advice of Cleary Gottlieb; advised on all four of Greece’s international bond issuances in 2019 (CEE Legal ‘Deal of the Year’, 2020), the country’s first offerings to the international markets since the conclusion of the bailout programme in 2018.

A day in the life of... Maddy Hayes, first-seat trainee, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Maddy Hayes, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Departments to date: M&A/private equity

University: University of Oxford

Degree: Jurisprudence

9.00am: Having recently starting my training contract in March 2021, I have joined the thousands of people in the country logging in to start work from my bedroom. With no commute, I normally start my day at 9am, checking emails that have come through from our international offices overnight and briefly looking at my daily alerts that summarise key developments in the corporate world. I also normally record yesterday’s time in our diaries application, which allows the billing team and my supervisors to know the time I have spent on different matters.

9.30am: By 9.30am, I typically have a training session run by associates in the firm. Today’s session covers IP assignments and licences, which are often the central components of IP and technology-centric M&A and commercial transactions in the tech and pharma sectors. Even though it is held through Zoom, being part of a small cohort of seven trainees, I feel very comfortable asking questions.

10.30am: My first substantive task of the day is to update transaction documents for a deal I have been assisting with for the past few months. It is my job to draft process agent appointment letters and send these to the client’s proposed agent, and populate the memorandum of understanding, framework agreement and side letters with relevant notice details and amend the signature pages.

12.00pm: Twice a week I take part in a Business Spanish course with an external company, which helps me to maintain my fluency in the language. In this class we did exercises related to relocating abroad. As Cleary has an office in Buenos Aires, I am hoping to maintain my language skills and go on secondment there in my third/fourth seat.

1.00pm: By 1pm it’s time for lunch and I’m fortunate to live in central London close to other trainees working from home. I have a quick catch up with a friend over coffee and snacks and enjoy a quick walk to get some fresh air.

2.00pm: Over lunchtime another task has come through for a liquidation I have been working on. Ahead of a board meeting held later in the afternoon, I need to prepare members’ resolutions for signing, and start by looking at the register of members and the company’s articles. I’m now very comfortable with our document management systems and ensure that any client work is properly recorded.

3.00pm: My supervisor, a senior partner at the firm, reaches out to me about a potential transaction and asks me to read some background information before I take a call note with local counsel in Vietnam tomorrow. Shadowing business development discussions is an opportunity not many trainees across the City will ever experience and I am learning so much about how the deals work, right from their conception.

4.00pm: I am a member of diversity working groups and today we have the second quarter committee meeting. We discuss the progress made, and the difficulties faced, by the BAME, Wellbeing, Social Mobility and LGBTQ+ groups and how we can work together.

4.30pm: I am working on an unwinding and this afternoon I will be attending the board meeting to appoint the liquidator. I write a call-note during the meeting, recording what was said for our records and follow-up emails.

6.00pm: This July I am sitting the New York Bar exam with the aim to be dual-qualified, and make time in the evening to review the outlines and lectures in my study plan. Today I am reviewing partnerships and agency, and luckily for me it doesn’t differ too much from the LPC.

8.00pm: Once my ‘to-do list’ for the day is ticked off, I log off, make some dinner and relax.

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 prerequisite, 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 12-16 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 £12,000 is paid for each year of professional study.

Diversity, equity and inclusion