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The past six months have been tumultuous for Clifford Chance’s US litigation team, which has experienced a raft of associate layoffs and a number of partner defections.
Amid speculation that the firm could further downsize or even wrap up the team, firmwide managing partner David ;Childs ;is ;keen to set the record straight. Litigation, he says, is very much part of the firm’s future in the US.
“We’re still in growth mode,” insists Childs. “We will of course be looking at the structure of the Americas over the next few months, but litigation is still a crucial part of our US practice. In fact, we’re hoping to expand in certain areas.”
According to Childs, antitrust is a crucial part of that expansion, even though the firm has seen a number of defections in recent years. Partner Kevin Arquit left for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 2002 and more recently Washington DC head Leiv Blad defected to Bingham McCutchen with partners Boyd ;Cloern ;and ;Jon Roellke last November.
Clifford Chance has since hired former US Federal Trade and Commission general counsel Bill Blumenthal to help fill the void. But one new partner is not enough.
“It’s a gap in our practice,” admits Childs. “It’s an important part of litigation and M&A and we need to look very carefully at that.”
Competing with New York’s elite has long been a challenge for the magic circle, but now Clifford Chance is also competing with UK rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the US litigation market.
Freshfields launched a New York litigation practice in January (TheLawyer.com, 22 January) after hiring Covington ;& ;Burling partners Aaron Marcu and Adam Siegel and Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner Benito Romano. Coming after Clifford Chance’s losses, the launch is significant.
These ;are ;certainly interesting times for Clifford Chance, which plans to cut back its partnership dramatically in the coming months. For some sources within the firm, it seems a no-brainer that what is left of the New York litigation team would be among the first to be restructured.
“So many people have left that surely the group needs to be readjusted,” says one US partner. “How the firm does that is another question. Everyone in New York is clearly nervous about their jobs.”