The qualities that make a Clifford Chance trainee
Could you be a trainee at Clifford Chance? Yes. If you are ambitious, resilient and innovative, you’ll find your place at Clifford Chance no matter what your background or work history.
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Jump to: Why you just need to be you | Future trainee Syed’s story | Future trainee Joe’s story | Current trainee Tyra’s story | Joining a diverse and inclusive firm | Skills development opportunities with Clifford Chance
There’s no doubt that when you join Clifford Chance as a trainee solicitor – or even earlier through one of their pioneering work experience schemes – you gain an unparalleled start to your career in the law. However, you may doubt that one of the world’s most pre-eminent commercial law firms, which works on the highest value and most newsworthy transactions across five continents, would be interested in ‘you’. If so, you would be wrong.
Clifford Chance believes that the best talent can come from anywhere. Syed Ali, a law student at University College London and someone who has already secured a training contract through the firm’s unique SPARK work experience programme, puts it well: ‘Clifford Chance’s tagline “where bright minds meet” says it all. The only thing the firm looks for is bright minds – they are looking for someone who can develop with them, no matter what your background or personal circumstances.’
So, you don’t need to have a CV full of vacation schemes with a revolving door of big-name firms; you don’t need to have been involved with specific types of student societies. You just need to be you: resilient, ambitious and able to offer new ideas and fresh perspectives.
As Joe Hing, another future trainee at the firm, a former SPARK participant and a graduate from Warwick University, says: ‘It doesn’t matter where you develop your skills; it just matters that you have them.’
Tyra Ntege, a current trainee and graduate from the University of Kent, agrees: ‘Sometimes students don’t realise that they can apply to a top-tier law firm like Clifford Chance, but I’d encourage you not to do yourself out of an opportunity; after all, I found my place here.’
Everything that makes you ‘you’
Clifford Chance is truly interested in what makes you ‘you’: what has formed your character and your reasons for seeking a training contract. Syed, Joe and Tyra did not come from the privileged backgrounds you might associate with candidates for law firms like Clifford Chance.
Syed developed an interest in law from an early age: ‘Both of my parents had come to this country following civil unrest and so a lot of the talk around the dinner table was around immigration and the law,’ he says. ‘I always thought that if I managed to get into one of the top law firms, I was going to have imposter syndrome. After coming to this country, my family eventually moved to one of the more deprived areas of London and a lot of my schoolfriends got caught up in gang violence. I knew that I wouldn’t have access to some of the opportunities that perhaps other applicants to top law firms would: I could never afford a tutor, for example.’
This never led him to lowering his sights, however. ‘I had to keep trying. I knew that I needed a kind of inner resilience because that belief and encouragement to keep pushing wasn’t necessarily going to come from outside of me,’ he reflects.
He took a four-year gap between his A levels and starting university. During this time, while juggling the demands of a growing family, he secured work experience with a number of organisations, including at the investment firms BlackRock and Close Brothers and at the Ministry of Justice. ‘For one of the investment firms, you had to be a graduate to gain an internship but I kept saying to people at the firm “Give me an interview and I’ll show you who I am”. A contact at the firm introduced me to someone who did interview me and who, when offering me a role, told me that I was the most impressive candidate they’d seen. And the reason I say this is not to brag, but to show that you can come from one of the most deprived areas and still reach a goal, if you’ve got the resilience and perseverance to push yourself.’
Even while on work experience with these companies, Syed was always seeking out more opportunities and he thinks this helped him to stand out to Clifford Chance recruiters: ‘I think it helped to be able to point to times when I still managed to attend open days despite other pulls on my time or get a job that people said I wouldn’t be able to get; I think it showed that I can be proactive and adaptable ,’ he says.
Joe first came to know of Clifford Chance through its pioneering two-year ACCESS programme, which is designed to help state school year 12 students from disadvantaged backgrounds into law. ‘No one in my family had been to university and a teacher told me that my area sent the second lowest number of students to higher education across the country,’ says Joe, who recently graduated from the University of Warwick and is now a masters student. ‘Law seemed out of my grasp, but then I found the ACCESS programme.’
This programme made him certain that he wanted to pursue a career in law. During his first year at university, he did all he could to gain further legal and commercial experience. ‘I travelled to the City and literally knocked on people’s doors, to try to get legal and commercial experience. There were a lot of knockbacks, but I also got talking to people in the offices who were able to offer me work experience opportunities or advice. There’s a lot to be said for putting yourself out there in unconventional ways – even if it doesn’t gain you any experience, it still develops skills such as resilience, the ability to think on your feet, communication and relationship building .’ The next year, he applied to SPARK (as he was able to do as a second year on a four-year course).
Joe has a strong work ethic . ‘When I was 13, I had three paper rounds and from then on I’ve always worked: for example, in shoe shops and at leisure centres,’ he says. Due to his experience, Joe is a strong advocate for being able to develop many of the skills Clifford Chance seeks from anywhere. For example, part-time work in retail and customer-facing environments taught him to understand the importance of client relationships, to communicate well, and to listen to and collaborate with others.
Tyra is now a trainee at Clifford Chance. Always interested in football, she came to play for a number of Centre of Excellence football teams, qualifying for Charlton Athletic, Gillingham and Crystal Palace FC. It was this that first ignited her interest in the law. ‘I became involved with the UK's equality and inclusion organisation for football, Kick it Out, and through my mentor Hayley Bennet, I cultivated an interest in sports law and player contracts, sponsorship agreements, IP rights issues and so on within football,’ she remembers. ‘Consequently, my commercial interest in the law grew.’
While at university and before, Tyra was a mentor for Kick it Out and a co-chair of the organisation’s young ambassadorial group; in addition, she also volunteered with Kent Law Clinic and was first team captain and player of the university’s women's football team. ‘Don’t underestimate the importance of part-time jobs, voluntary opportunities and societies. These set me apart hugely, as I was able to demonstrate my interest in law, the way in which I work with others and my leadership skills . Remember that work in a supermarket is just as valid as work experience in a bank for getting exposure to working with clients.’
Looking back now, Tyra reflects that it is her experiences of overcoming adversity and unconscious bias that has given her the skills and drive to succeed. ‘I grew up as one of the few women of colour on my football team, in the school I attended and the area I lived in, and I had some challenging experiences within my sport. These required me to really teach myself to overcome imposter syndrome ,’ she says. ‘I persevered in contexts in which my peers remained blissfully unaware of, and uneducated about, my life experiences and personal struggles, whether they be due to my race, class or faith identity. These experiences have driven me to go for gold with my training contract and push myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve become more confident .’
In fact, it was Clifford Chance’s commitment to ensuring a truly diverse, inclusive and welcoming place in which you can fully be yourself that first attracted Tyra to Clifford Chance. She attended a talk while at university. ‘The head of graduate recruitment spoke about how the firm is passionate about increasing diversity and making sure that opportunities are accessible to all,’ she remembers. ‘She admitted that they weren’t yet where they wanted to be, but I saw that there was a genuine willingness to change.’ Tyra has only seen this commitment grow as she joined the firm. ‘In my view, Clifford Chance is the law firm most willing to innovate on diversity and inclusion.’
Syed feels similarly. When he attended Clifford Chance at an open day before starting university, Syed immediately knew he wanted to work there. ‘I got the strong sense that I could belong,’ he says. ‘I’m a Muslim and other participants and I were fasting on that day and the firm saw to our needs, for example showing us where the prayer room was. I thought, “This is a place where I can practise my religion when it’s normally seen as taboo in the corporate world”. There’s no denying that part of the reason I applied was the quality of the work on offer and the opportunity for an international secondment, but by far the best thing about Clifford Chance is its ability to include you and to take care of you as an individual.’
Clifford Chance is passionate about democratising access to the law and so its global network of trainees and lawyers have come together to help produce the unique Virtual Global Internship programme . Designed for absolutely everyone, it gives you the opportunity to upskill yourself on the sorts of things that the law firm works on. With more than 20 hours of modular content, you will be guided through and able to undertake the tasks you would be doing as a trainee – and what’s more, it can be completed at your own pace and to your own schedule.
This is just one of the initiatives that Clifford Chance has started with the intention of breaking down barriers to entry and of empowering every talented individual to find their place within the profession. It has also pioneered:
- The Ready Set Law programme (a condensed virtual internship programme primarily aimed at 16–18 year olds)
- The ACCESS programme for year 12 students
- The SPARK programme , open to first-year law students, second-year law students on four-year degrees and second-year non-law students
- ACCEPT – a ground-breaking conference for LGBTQ+ students interested in legal careers
- The LGBT Undergraduate of the Year Award and the Young Activist Undergraduate of the Year Award , which celebrate the most talented undergraduates of the year in those categories and offer them unique networking and work experience opportunities with the firm.
Once you have secured a coveted training contract with the firm, you will have access to other training opportunities – not least its trailblazing LIFT internship scheme, which enables you to intern with other top-name organisations such as the Invictus Games Foundation and Spark21 to gain client exposure and build your skills even further. Joe recently undertook a LIFT internship with the Invictus Games Foundation: ‘I worked as a commercial intern. My job was to support the charity to prepare a new brand license for its 20 participating nations to use in accordance with its policies around sponsorship and donation acceptance,’ he says. ‘The fact that Clifford Chance is so interested in your personal development and puts such unique opportunities in place shows that the firm is truly interested in you as an individual.’