Survey Results - Trainee feedback on CMS

The lowdown - Trainees (in their own words) on CMS

Why did you choose this firm over any others? ‘Its size and the range of work available to get involved with’, ‘it seemed a good way to work at an international firm without the hours or culture of the City’, ‘I liked the people I worked with during my summer placement’, ‘female representation in leadership’, ‘its support for mental health and wellbeing’, ‘it was very open to lawyers coming from central and eastern Europe’

Best thing about the firm? ‘Secondment opportunities’, ‘genuinely a perfect balance between a nice culture, quality work, good training, remuneration, a challenge, work/life balance and support’, ‘it cares about diversity’, ‘good emphasis on CSR’, ‘the pay day sweets’, ‘working with industry leaders’, ‘regional pay is good’, ‘the standard of work’, ‘the choir’

Worst thing about the firm? ‘Scottish trainee remuneration’, ‘no coffee machines in the [London] kitchens’, ‘the hours’, ‘needless hierarchy – respect is shown based on number of years PQE above any other factor’, ‘very busy at times’, ‘limited trainee socials’, ‘seat allocation system’, ‘the confusing layout of the [London] building – it is very easy to get lost!’

Best moment? ‘Satisfied clients’, ‘hearing kind words in my appraisal’, ‘completing my fist acquisition’, ‘attending a three-day hearing’, ‘client secondment’, ‘the trainee ball’, ‘getting good feedback on work’, ‘presenting the secretaries with their gifts at the team Christmas dinner’, ‘working on high-profile transactions’, ‘client dinner after working with them on a big project for four months’

Worst moment? ‘Putting on cake weight!’; ‘the wrong application being sent to my client secondment interviewers causing great embarrassment’; ‘uploading documents to a data room until late at night’; ‘the feeling of constantly being in a job interview’; ‘sending a joke email to the wrong person’; ‘having to work a weekend in my first week of a new seat’; ‘not getting an international secondment’

The Lex 100 verdict on CMS

The firm: CMS is a future-facing, global law firm well equipped to help clients confront challenges and seize opportunities with confidence. CMS put the interests of clients at the heart of everything they do across their 70+ offices in 40+ countries in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America. With more than 1,000 partners and 4,500 lawyers, CMS work in cross-border teams to deliver top quality, practical advice no matter how complex the situation.

The star performers (top-ranking departments according to The Legal 500 – see for more details): Commercial contracts; Commercial litigation; Education; Employee share schemes; Environment; Fintech; Franchising; Healthcare; Intellectual property; International arbitration; Local government; M&A: upper mid-market and premium deals, £250m+; Media and entertainment (including media finance); Parliamentary and public affairs; PATMA: Trade mark attorneys; Planning; Power (including electricity and renewables); Professional negligence; Property finance; Transport.

The verdict

‘A firm on an exciting trajectory’, CMS’ ‘international capabilities’ and ‘wide variety of seat options’ lured the current trainee cohort. The expansive firm is ‘well regarded in the market’ and the ‘sheer range of work to get involved with’ is impressive. There is a ‘diversity and variety of people’, including ‘lots of very bright individuals’ who are ‘friendly and supportive’. In fact, ‘you can ask anyone in the team for help and no one will ever look as if you’re disturbing them’. There is ‘more freedom and client contact’ and ‘a lot of trust is placed in trainees to take on a bigger role’ in work. Recruits enjoyed running their own matters in the real estate department in particular. ‘Organising closings on my own’ and ‘my supervising partner emailing me on a Saturday to congratulate me on a successful first week’ were clear highlights. An ‘overnight trip to Birmingham in my banking seat only for the deal to fall through’, and ‘a string of 4am finishes’ were much less enjoyable. Away from their desks, trainees are encouraged to undertake 100 hours of CSR a year and many appreciated the opportunity to ‘spend considerable time on things which are close to your heart’. There are also a range of client secondments on offer, which are ‘very hands on’. One respondent even reported ‘learning more in these six months than in any other seat’! Some complained that the trainee intake was too big, which leads to ‘increased competition’ and that it is ‘difficult [for graduate recruitment] to oversee everyone’. Others complained about the staff canteen. But to work at a firm which ‘cares about diversity’ and is ‘always looking to the future and to be as international as possible’, research CMS.

Trainee profiles


 Michael Brainerd: I am a fourth-seater at CMS and I studied Philosophy at the University of Nottingham. I did my GDL at the University of Law (Guildford) and then completed my LPC (with a Masters in Law and Business) at the University of Law (Moorgate).

I chose CMS for its international presence, variety of practice areas and secondment opportunities. Also, while already a leader across many sectors, it is a future-focused law firm and I knew it would provide me with new opportunities as a trainee and then a qualified lawyer.

One piece of advice I would give my student self is to make the most of the many opportunities available at university such as sports, societies and law firm events, which are of course useful when submitting your applications, but are also very insightful and fun! When applying for vacation schemes or training contracts, I would favour quality over quantity, as each application should take at least 7-8 hours of time (including research/proof-reading). Make sure you have done your research; for example, CMS is similar to other large international firms in some ways, but very different in others – find out how!

 Catherine Little: I was born and schooled in France to British parents. I am completely bilingual and, as a result, chose to study Exeter’s English Law and French Law degree (which includes an EU Law Masters).

I applied for the vacation scheme at CMS as the firm combines outstanding brand strength, technical excellence and career opportunities with an appealingly European outlook. I was granted a place on the 2016 scheme where I realised it is the culture of an industry, and of the firm within that industry, that defines the experience of those pursuing a career within it. While cultures vary significantly from firm to firm, I concluded that CMS’s challenging, supportive and collegiate working environment would allow me to reach my full potential. CMS is a fun place to work, surrounded by friendly and like-minded people!

One piece of advice I would give to applicants is: get to know as many firms as you can by attending events and talking to trainees. This will help in finding the right fit for you and making informed decisions when submitting applications!

 Megan McCulloch: I took a different route into the profession: a BSc in Neuroscience at the University of Dundee, before studying both the accelerated LLB in Scots and English law and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Strathclyde.

CMS has an excellent reputation in the life science and healthcare sector, with a raft of household-name clients and several acclaimed practitioners across practice groups. Trainees even have the opportunity to go on secondment to some of these clients or our international offices. Given my background as a STEM graduate and their global scope, this made CMS a front-runner when applying for vacation schemes. The firm’s culture was another key factor – from my first interaction with CMS at the university law fair, I was impressed by how friendly and down-to-earth the people were, a trend that continued through all my subsequent engagement.

One piece of advice I would give to my student self is to say yes to every opportunity. From extracurricular activities (work, societies or sports) to taking every chance to engage with firms (through careers fairs, on- and off-campus events and open days), you’re putting yourself in the best position to secure the training contract you want. It will really help you develop your transferable soft skills, expand your network of contacts, find out more about the culture of firms beyond what is written on their websites, and work out which is the right fit for you, plus offer lots of experiences to use for applications and interviews.

About the firm

Senior partner: Penelope Warne

Managing partner: Stephen Millar

Offices we recruit into: Bristol, London, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Additional UK offices include Manchester, Reading, Liverpool and further global locations.

Who we are: We are a future-facing, global law firm well equipped to help clients confront challenges and seize opportunities with confidence. We put the interests of clients at the heart of everything we do across over 70 offices, in over 40 countries in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America. With more than 1,000 partners and 4,500 lawyers, we work in cross-border teams to deliver top-quality, practical advice no matter how complex the situation.

What we do: We are recognised for our sector excellence and focus in consumer products, energy, financial services, hotels and leisure, infrastructure and project finance, life sciences and healthcare, real estate, and technology, media and communications. Our legal expertise is therefore matched by real world, commercial understanding of the markets in which their clients operate.

What we’re looking for: Personal effectiveness, professional communication, drive for achievement, creative thinking, leading self and others, future-facing lawyer, relationship-building and commercial awareness.

What you’ll do: Our training contracts feature four six-month seats or secondments nationally, internationally or client-based.

Perks: 25 days’ flexible annual leave, pension scheme, interest-free season ticket loan, private medical insurance, critical illness insurance, life assurance, employee referral scheme, membership fees to professional organisations, restaurant facilities, study assistance.


We also offer annual apprenticeship schemes in both London and Sheffield; click here or go to for further details.