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 other? ‘The highly-inclusive culture; the hardworking, driven and very friendly people; the high-profile, cutting-edge work’; ‘I was really drawn to the departmentalised structure which provides more flexibility and the opportunity to “customise” your own professional development’; ‘independence and being a self-starter are highly valued in the firm and I like that trainees and associates aren’t hen-pecked or micromanaged’

Best thing about the firm? ‘Trainees are actively encouraged to offer their opinions and are valued as an integral part of any transaction or case team’; ‘our colleagues are intelligent and ambitious, whilst also very friendly, collaborative and supportive’; ‘the calibre of the people – being surrounded by some intelligent individuals who are experts in what they do is pretty inspiring’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘The hours can be long, sometimes due to differing time zones’; ‘lack of transparency on decision making’; ‘falling retention rate’; ‘because of the lean structure, the firm is vulnerable to an increase in workload for the teams if one or two associates leave or are away at the same time. This has improved recently, but the vulnerability remains’

Best moment? ‘Managing multiple filings in a day largely on my own’; ‘working on the first transaction of its type in a particular jurisdiction’; ‘every first year trainee is invited on an Acculturation trip with other new hires from Cleary’s European offices’; ‘the pro bono initiatives – participating in a legal clinic for refugees, helping at a session in Toynbee Hall, and the schools outreach programme’

Worst moment? ‘Being told off for coming in late after consecutive weeks of long hours’; ‘two substantial deadlines coinciding’; ‘being given a seat in a practice area I was not interested in’; ‘staying in the office for consecutive late nights only for the deal to die close to launching’

The Lex 100 verdict on Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

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; representing the Government of Barbados in its $774m external debt restructuring, a ground-breaking sovereign debt transaction which involved significant legal innovation – following the exchange, Barbados became 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; 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.

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

The verdict

American heavyweight Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP impresses trainees with its ‘diverse and collegiate atmosphere’ and ‘high-profile, cutting-edge work’. As a US firm, Cleary fits in with its peer group in some ways with ‘unpredictable hours’ and challenging work. But, as one trainee identifies, the firm ‘exceeds expectations in its working environment’, saying that ‘the work is frequently hard, as it should be, but it makes the hard weeks slightly easier when you have a supportive team’. The firm boasts a ‘highly inclusive culture, hardworking, driven and very friendly people, and high-profile, cutting-edge work’. The small intake size provides trainees with the opportunity to take advantage of the firm’s ‘non-departmentalized structure which provides more flexibility and the opportunity to “customize” your own professional development’. The training programme is considered ‘less structured’ than competitors by some trainees who comment that ‘it is dependent on the supervisor and the seat’. Others highlight the quality of the ‘regular company law training series’ and ‘practice group meetings’. The approach of learning on the job is applauded by trainees, who recognise that ‘the training experience at the firm is rewarding for junior solicitors’. This comes with additional responsibility and respondents identify that ‘it is not uncommon for second-seat trainees to be doing associate-level work’. Trainees say that the ‘pro bono and CSR is fantastic at Cleary’ with lots of ‘bespoke projects and sometimes we collaborate with clients as well’. A Lex 100 Winner for financial remuneration, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP is a strong contender for ‘self-starters’ looking for a challenging and rewarding atmosphere with cutting-edge work.

A day in the life of… Emma O'Brien, second-seat trainee, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Emma O'Brien, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

Departments to date: M&A, litigation

University: Trinity College Dublin

Degree: Law and Political Science

9.15am: Since lockdown began, we have been working from home. To ease the transition and keep some structure to our days, the litigation partners set up a daily team Zoom call. These are short and informal check-ins. Members of the team who are involved in interesting stages of cases such as hearings are invited to update the team, and new matters and pitches are discussed.

9.30am: After the team call, I tackle my inbox and make a plan for the day. There is often a lot of correspondence overnight due to the international nature of the firm’s work, and I have emails from the New York team. I also receive press updates from a number of publications so I try to flick through these to keep up-to-date with what is going on in the world (apart from Covid-19!).

10.00am: I have my daily call with my supervising partner to check in about my workload. This gives me a chance to ask some questions about a particular banking matter which is at a very busy disclosure stage.

11.00am: The disputes trainees have organised a weekly catch-up call, which has been invaluable during lockdown. This allows us to discuss the different cases we are working on and share information and tips about typical disputes trainee tasks. It also gives us a chance to check that no one is struggling with too heavy a workload and to try help each other out if so.

11.30am: My first substantive task of the day is to draft a letter to opposing counsel in a matter we are working on. This is quite a straightforward chasing letter but requires some digging through previous correspondence in order to correctly reference previous letters we have been sent.

1.30pm: I am a member of the social mobility working group, and today we have an update call to discuss some initiatives regarding collaboration with the pro bono group. We have been giving presentations on different legal careers, including careers in business development and professional staff, to secondary school students from different backgrounds. We brainstorm potential actions to accommodate virtual offices and schools.

2.00pm: I spend some time reviewing documents on a datasite for the matter that is at the disclosure stage, going through documents from our client and tagging as ‘relevant’ any we will have to disclose to the other side. I mark any that need to be redacted for legal privilege and confidential information.

3.30pm: We have an update call with the client in this case, during which we fill them in on the status of the disclosure exercise and the timeline going forward. They ask some questions regarding correspondence with the other side, and I take notes during the meeting to share internally afterwards.

4.30pm: Next, I have a call with an associate with whom I am working on a pro bono matter for an organisation which supports refugee entrepreneurs. We have an appointment with our client on Friday so we discuss the query we have received and set out an action plan.

5.00pm: Following the call, I do some initial research on this pro bono matter. The query involves a potential contract claim so I use our online library resources to refresh my memory of the basics of contract law and then review some case law which may be relevant. I put together a brief memorandum to send to my supervising associate.

6.30pm: We have an internal call for the case which is in disclosure phase to discuss our progress and any further tasks to be completed today.

7.30pm: As soon as I have completed any remaining tasks – and recorded my time for the day – I log off for the evening. Time for my home ‘office’ to revert back to a kitchen!

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 £8,000 is paid for each year of professional study.