CC sends Cornell to NY to turn around US operation

Clifford Chance

is set for a radical overhaul of its US practice as managing partner Peter Cornell relocates to New York this month to work with US managing partner John Carroll.

Cornell’s move is being presented as a bid to reintegrate culturally the US practice with the rest of the network.

Cornell told The Lawyer last week: “I’ve worked with these guys a lot and I haven’t been close enough to New York to bring about the changes we all want. Perhaps it can be, in the best sense of the word, a Clifford Chance office and they can feel part of the rest of the business.”

However, Clifford Chance sources admit that the US profitability has given serious cause for concern.

Last year, The Lawyer revealed that Clifford Chance was aiming for plateau profits of £830,000. Last year they stood at £630,000. Current projections reveal that despite a massive global cost-saving drive, which is expected to take £40m in costs out of the business, plateau partners will see a rise to only £700,000 this financial year.

It is understood that the US practice records profit margins of around 29 per cent in a market where New York firms routinely notch up margins of 40 per cent. The New York figure also compares unfavourably with the London profit margin of 36 per cent, according to The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report.

A Clifford Chance insider said: “There was a bigger gap between the US and London than anyone realised. We’ve been slow in dealing with it.”

Although Cornell’s app-roach is recognised as inclusive, Clifford Chance sources say that the management is prepared to take a tough line with US partners who do not buy into the firm’s vision.

In the past year, the firm has effectively shut down its California operation and closed its Berlin office. All offices now have to justify themselves on a quarterly basis.