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I knew back when I was applying for training contracts that I wanted to work for a leading, global firm because I wanted the best training experience. Clifford Chance’s training contract provides you with a great platform for your career even if you don’t end up qualifying with the firm. I’ve known people go on to have very successful careers elsewhere due to their experiences here.
The key thing when deciding where to apply is to talk to as many people in a firm as possible: not just trainees, but associates, partners and those on the business side. Most law firms look ‘shiny’ from the outside; it is through talking to people that you gain a real insight into their culture – and the culture of a law firm comes from its people. I’d say that we are very collegiate. In fact, sometimes it takes a crisis to bring home to you the values of a firm: for example, the top priority during the coronavirus pandemic has been the welfare of our people.
Law and diversity
I’d interviewed at a number of top firms before my Clifford Chance training contract interview. The thing that stuck with me, as a black British African woman, was that Clifford Chance was the most diverse firm I’d visited. As I toured the office, I saw lots of people who looked liked me; I genuinely couldn’t say that about the other firms.
I think, like many law firms, we stagnated our efforts in relation to diversity and inclusion for a while. However, we have been re-building momentum and over the past 12 months we have translated our conversations around diversity and inclusion into concrete actions. The roll out of our diversity and inclusion targets, which I’ve been integral to developing, is one of these. We looked at our data and where the gaps were. We wanted there to be global targets and, while there may be legal and cultural differences across our regions, we were clear that there weren’t going to be any excuses. We have been creative and bold in our approach and I am proud to say that the rest of the profession is following our lead.
I have been very proud of how Clifford Chance responded to Black Lives Matter. Importantly, the message came from the leadership team, as our senior partner, Jeroen Ouwehand, put out a clear call to action. We were one of the first law firms to put out a statement, as there was a strong feeling that we could not hold back on this issue. It was empathetic and measured but bold. Our BAME employee network, REACH, has been instrumental to our response, advising on what actions the firm could take, such as charities to support. Similarly, the firm has always taken an ‘outside the box’ approach to Black History Month. We have a series of coordinated events and we invite speakers (such as Akala) who spark debate, people about whom our clients and employees might think ‘I never thought a law firm would have a speaker like that’.
I actually set up REACH because I’d been inspired by the networks I’d found when I’d completed secondments with investment banks. I am now a partner sponsor and it has gone from strength to strength. We initiated a reverse mentoring programme, when a more junior ethnic minority employee is paired with a more senior non-ethnic minority employee. It has helped our more senior colleagues feel more comfortable talking about race issues and it has given more junior colleagues greater access to senior individuals in the firm. In fact, it has been so successful that we have introduced reverse mentoring across the firm. Our other employee networks – including Accelerate, our gender parity group, and Arcus, our LGBTQ+ group – are also active, listened to and have a voice on management committees. One of the things I value about Clifford Chance is that there is so much opportunity to shape both the future of the firm and the legal profession.
An employment specialist
I really enjoy the work I do: one day I might be working on a whistleblowing claim, the next day the implications of a global merger and acquisition, the next on a regulatory investigation. There is sometimes a perception among trainees that being a non-commercial specialist in a commercial firm means that it can be harder to be promoted. However, being a specialist means becoming known for your expertise and develop a unique selling point (or USP), which can work to your advantage. I’ve found that, throughout your time with firm, you continue to receive a range of opportunities for personal and professional development – if you are open to accepting them and willing to challenge yourself.
Looking back, a pivotal moment for my personal development was being told I almost didn’t qualify into employment because I was thought too shy. I thought, ‘I’m not shy’ – and then realised that I wasn’t bringing my authentic self to the workplace. I began thinking of ways I could contribute to meetings and started to more actively build one-on-one relationships with colleagues. We still laugh at how ‘shy’ I was!
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