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Clifford Chance

Employee profile

Vanessa Simpungwe

Current Third Seat Trainee

Graduate scheme/programme: Current Third Seat Trainee, previously on Clifford Chance Winter Vacation scheme in 2015

University: University College London (UCL)

Years attended: 2013-2016

Degree: BA History, 2:1

How did you find out about Clifford Chance and why did you decide to apply?

I found out about Clifford Chance through an organisation called Rare Recruitment (Rare). Rare is an organisation committed to supporting those from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds in applying for careers at top city firms such as Clifford Chance. For me, a black woman and the first in my family to attend university, the fact that Clifford Chance was partnered so closely with such an organisation was extremely important as it showed a commitment to hiring talent from a wider pool. I was also struck by the prestige and the truly "full service" business model of the firm. As a non-law student, this was particularly attractive as I felt Clifford Chance would provide the best opportunity to gain solid training in corporate and financial practice areas, with the possibility of also sitting in a niche practice area, if so wished.

What does your role involve: typical activities and key responsibilities

In my previous seat, I sat within the firm's Asset Finance team, working mainly on Aviation financing and leasing. The team is one of the larger and busiest teams in the firm which generally means there is an "all hands on deck" approach to deals. This has been great for my development and confidence. My responsibilities have ranged from liaising with local counsel on local law matters and points of law. Drafting and finalising security documents, keeping track of all of the moving parts of the deal and there can be many! I have had the opportunity to work directly with Partners which has allowed me to truly be on the front-end, communicating directly with clients and preparing first drafts of documents. Due to the global nature of the firm, my role has also frequently involved liaising with other Clifford Chance offices for their input on various matters.

What training have you received to date?

The training offered by the firm has thus far been very helpful and informative. All trainees are provided with a comprehensive induction programme with talks and presentations on almost every aspect of being a Clifford Chance employee, including how to manage soft skills and professional relationships. On a departmental level, I have also found the training programme to be comprehensive. The team in charge of training and knowledge in my current department take a particularly robust approach to training and provision of legislative updates for trainees and lawyers within the group. Firm wide, I have also attended briefings on tech and Brexit developments which have also been very useful.

What do you enjoy about your role and Clifford Chance?

I enjoy the variety and the high level of responsibility offered as a trainee at Clifford Chance. I think there is often a misconception that trainees at larger firms can be limited to repetitive or administrative tasks. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case at Clifford Chance. Responsibility is given to those who ask for it which allows for a good variety of work. On more complex transactions where I have had more of a support function, the lessons learnt have still been invaluable. Working closely with senior lawyers who are recognised as market leaders in their respective fields has been a great way to learn a variety of skills such as transaction and client management, delegation and time management.

Aside from work, I am a member of the firm's BAME Steering Committee and participate in several pro-bono activities such as mentoring GCSE students and weekly reading sessions with a Year 5 student at a local school. When I can, I also use the in-house gym – this is a good way to let off steam or to make use of time whilst waiting for documents! I enjoy the fact that Clifford Chance trainees are trusted to fit their billable commitments around any other activities or pro-bono responsibilities offered and manage their own time.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome any difficult situations – what support has been provided?

I have found the technical and industry specific aspects of my first two seats a challenge. The first team I sat with, in Corporate, are market leaders in insurance, whilst my current team was recognised as the best in the city for Aviation finance earlier this year. With this, comes a reputation of offering a high level of technical knowledge and expertise to clients. This can be quite dauting for a trainee with limited prior industry knowledge – particularly when the team is busy and the “all hands on deck approach” is in full swing. However, the firm have been great in helping me to overcome this both formally and informally. Formally; through invaluable department specific training sessions and informally through fostering a working culture where questions are welcomed and encouraged. It has been extremely encouraging to see colleagues from all levels sharing knowledge and experiences of previous transactions to assist others with any queries they may have. This can be quite dauting for a trainee with limited prior industry knowledge – particularly when the team is busy and the “all hands on deck approach” is in full swing.

Why would you recommend Clifford Chance?

I would recommend Clifford Chance due to the high quality of work and strong level of training offered. Whilst the firm certainly has a high-performance culture, this is within a supportive framework with a vast number of resources available to trainees and junior lawyers. Clifford Chance is also genuinely aware and conscious of its social impact. This is seen through its commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and the range of pro-bono activities and initiatives on offer.