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Clifford Chance's board is locked in discussions to decide which partners will become the next generation of management.
The board spent last Friday (19 January) in a late-night meeting in Hong Kong. One of the topics addressed was the management succession.
The issue is the subject of much speculation within the firm. One insider confirms that succession was on the agenda at the board meeting, and adds: "One of the big topics right now is the succession stuff - people are talking about it down the pub."
Another insider says: "It's something we keep asking, that succession planning has to take place, but you have to balance that with democracy, which is the difficult bit."
The talks come only weeks after chief operating officer Garth Pollard announced he was taking early retirement and was stepping down ahead of schedule (The Lawyer, 8 January).
"A replacement for Garth has to be found," says a partner.
But sources at the firm were quick to quash market rumours that chairman Keith Clark was to follow Pollard's lead and step down early.
One senior source says that Clark will be spending more time outside London, but denies that he is to quit the post of chair. Last year, Clark spent three months in New York and is currently in Hong Kong for two months. Clark was one of the key architects of the Clifford ChancePünder Volhard Weber & Axster and Rogers & Wells mergers.
Several key management changes are understood to be on the cards. Asia managing partner John East is believed to want to return to London in the summer and a replacement for Pollard needs to be selected. Current chief executive officer Michael Bray is being tipped for a more senior post in the future.
One insider says: "I think people think there's no alternative. [Bray] is not a figurehead or a worker of the crowd and he'd never sack a partner, but as an ideas man people are very happy with him."
Another idea being put up for proposal is the increased use of professional managers. The source adds: "Professionals would be used to make sure the books are balanced and the place is efficient."
The board, which has no real decision-making power, is viewed as the "conscience" of the firm. Keith Clark currently chairs the board, which meets quarterly.