CC battles to keep hold of key clients after Benedict departs

Clifford Chance New York has fought a rearguard action to keep key clients Alliance Capital and Merrill Lynch in the wake of last week’s defection of litigation rainmaker Jim Benedict.

It is understood the firm has won assurances from Merrill Lynch and Alliance that it will retain all current litigation mandates.
Both Benedict and junior Clifford Chance litigation partner Sean Murphy started at Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy last Wednesday (20 October).

Benedict was among a handful of US rainmakers awarded between 50 and 75 extra equity points last year, just months after Clifford Chance’s compensation review reaffirmed lockstep.

Among the other partners was Ken Gallo, who left soon after to join Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. Bankruptcy partners Margot Schonholtz and Mark Liscio, alongside global head of litigation Peter Chaffetz, are among the few remaining New York partners being paid above the firm’s 100-point plateau.

Sources say that Benedict will more than double his earnings at Milbank, although it is understood that his frustration with the firm’s London management, rather than remuneration, was the key reason for his defection.

Benedict boasts one of the foremost practices in the fast-growing mutual funds area. Estimates place the value of Benedict’s book of business at $7m-$15m (£3.9m-£8.3m) a year. However, Clifford Chance insists the figure is significantly lower.

Clifford Chance’s Americas litigation practice head Mark Kirsch said: “Although we will miss Jim, his departure does not materially affect our capabilities or resources.”

Earlier this month it emerged that West Coast partner James Lico was jumping ship for Kirkland & Ellis, after fellow partner Joseph Ferraro left last month to start his own firm. The departures leave Clifford Chance’s West Coast operation with only two remaining partners – litigation and dispute resolution partner Tower Snow and global head of IP Daniel Harris.

Benedict is the latest in a stream of big-billing US partners to have walked out of the magic circle firm’s US practice in the past two years. His departure follows those of antitrust “superpoint” partner Kevin Arquit to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Steve Newborn to Weil Gotshal & Manges, IP star Leora Ben Ami to Kaye Scholer and Ken Gallo to Paul Weiss.