CMS managed to pull off a tripartite perger with fellow City firms Nabarro and Olswang on 1st May 2017. Many commentators (including ROF) thought it would be difficult to get such a complicated deal over the finishing line, so fair play to them. It's clearly too early to see what the new firm will look like, so for now the comments below apply to the legacy CMS. Anyone interested in the firm should also check out the Nabarro and Olswang reviews on this site.
The firm is an unusual beast. 'CMS' refers to its global network, now expanded to 60 offices in over 30 countries across the world with over 5000 staff. However when you hear 'CMS Cameron McKenna' that refers to the firm's UK and Eastern European network. Slightly confusing messaging? As one London lawyer puts it, "Are we CMS? CMS Cameron McKenna? No one really knows".
The firm has gradually been getting back since the unsettling days of the credit crunch when it made 43 fee-earners redundant and deferred its NQ start dates. In order to prevent further redundancies, a flexible working scheme was introduced in 2010, involving the vast majority of staff either working shorter weeks or taking unpaid leave. It acquired sickly Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson in May 2014, but as can be expected there were casualties, and 60 support staff roles were put on the line.
It abandoned an element of performance-related pay for partners in favour of pure lockstep, waving goodbye to its practice of sharing out around 5% of profits amongst star partners every year. The firm claimed performance-based pay was divisive and costly to administer, and unmodified lockstep certainly fits in with the egalitarian partnership ethos.
The firm posted very strong results in the last financial year, with
global turnover rising 11% from £715.19, to £753.3m. In the UK, turnover
rose by 37% and PEP was at a record £802,000. The improvement in the UK has been in part due to the savings accrued over the last
year years following the firm's outsourcing deal with Integreon in 2010.
CMS falls somewhat between two stools: despite sound financials it's still not considered big enough to enjoy the reputation and profits of the Magic Circle or the chasing pack. And whilst insiders report that staff are a “genuinely decent bunch of down to earth people"
and praise of "good work, good colleagues [and] an open and unpretentious environment",
it can't offer the collegiality of smaller corporate firms like Travers Smith.
The firm has just squeezed into the top half of the table in this year's Firm of the Year survey
, with an overall score on 67%. There was still relief at having left the "Orwellian granite block” of
Mitre House (its London office) for "fabulous
" open plan offices in Cannon Street in 2015. However, one lawyer says the office entrance is "trying too hard to be an airport lounge
" and another says "the new offices are nice, if you like working in a call centre
Partners are described as "generally good leaders and active mentors"
and the firm seems very encouraging of flexible working which one lawyer says is "not just lip service...the firm does seek to be ahead of the game with working mothers"
. Another agrees, saying they were "encouraged by senior management to work flexibly during tube strikes
" and over the Christmas period "and given the tools to do so
", with the provision of Microsoft Surface Pros.
Overall staff seem happy to come into work with people who are "supportive, knowledgeable, friendly"
and 'the social life and general attitude of most partners and associates make it a nice place to work".
The firm's award winning CSR and pro bono team also received praise with one insider commenting that the "general charity work is outstanding."
There were a couple of grumbles that it is "Relatively unknown outside legal circles, despite its size compared to equivalent-sized firms",
with "Terrible branding/slogans which are hard to explain/justify to clients".
Overall, CMS seems to be staffed with an above average number of nice people and to offer a decent work-life balance, though it may suffer from an unclear offering. As one insider comments, "overall a great firm that probably deserves more credit."