Clifford Chance candidate proposes ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ role and regular ‘micro retreats’ for staff

·3-min read
Skyscrapers in Canary Wharf, where Clifford Chance is based  (REUTERS)
Skyscrapers in Canary Wharf, where Clifford Chance is based (REUTERS)

It is one of London’s oldest City law firms where solicitors toil long hours advising global blue chip corporate clients ranging from Goldman Sachs to L’Oreal.

But the high earning partners of 220 year old “magic circle” bastion Clifford Chance face an extraordinary cultural upheaval if one of the candidates for the top job gets his way.

The Canary Wharf based firm’s high flying tech co-head Jonathan Kewley has submitted a “manifesto” that has shocked partners by proposing a new California style working environment where a “Chief Happiness Officer” ensures that staff enjoy “the most vibrant, happy and uplifting place to work in the world.”

The 40-year-old, who is standing for managing partner, suggests that employees should take “micro-retreats every six weeks” in “cool places we might not have thought of” and have books by their favourite authors sent to them when they are published.

Other ideas in his “Vision Paper” include “sponsorship for passion projects and hobbies”, a pilot of a four day working week and a review of the job title “trainee.”

In his ‘Vision Paper’, which includes a smiley and sunglasses “cool” emoji, Mr Kewley declares: “We must foster a culture where holidays (holy days) are sacred” adding “What is life if full of care?” and “Let’s surprise, let’s delight, let’s dream.”

Jonathan Kewley became a partner at Clifford Chance in 2017 (Handout)
Jonathan Kewley became a partner at Clifford Chance in 2017 (Handout)

He concluded: “We have a generational opportunity to create the most vibrant, happy and uplifting place to work in the world. This paper is written from a joyful place.”

Oxford educated Mr Kewley submitted his manifesto to Clifford Chance partners earlier this week along with the only other candidate incumbent Michael Bates. It is said to have split opinion among partners with one descrbing it as “utterly deluded”.

Mr Bates’s set of proposals, titled ‘Priorities’ are a much more conventional affair focused on recruitment and retention of lawyers. In particular, he argues that the firm should “adjust the leverage model to incorporate more non-partner senior lawyers.”

Catrin Griffiths, editor of The Lawyer magazine, which first revealed the manifestos, said: ”It remains to be seen if Clifford Chance partners can be persuaded by the New Age rhetoric or whether they are more concerned with the hard realities of running a workplace.”

The role, which has a four-year term, is not elected but global managing partner Matthew Layton will take soundings from London colleagues before making the appointment.

Mr Kewley joined Clifford Chance, where full equity partners made a profit of £1.85 million last year, in 2014 and became a partner in 2017.

He has a long track record of concern about boosting diversity in the tech and legal professons and in 2019 unveiled a bursary programme with his alma mater Hertford College, Oxford specifically for minority and ethnic women to study computer science.

Like many other top City firms it has dramatically boosted pay for young solicitors recently because of a shortage of talent. Trainees start at £50,000 rising to £55,00 in the wecond year and £100,000 on qualification.

A spokesman for Clifford Chance declined to comment.

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