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Clifford Chance is opening an office in Washington DC to strengthen its projects practice in the Americas.
The firm already has a 55-lawyer New York office and the announcement comes a month after it set up an office in SAo Paulo - despite concerns that Brazil will be the next casualty of the world economic crisis.
Washington is seen as vital for project work because many financial agencies, such as the US export and import bank XIM, are located there.
Freshfields and Cameron McKenna have offices in the city while Linklaters maintains a representative office. Freshfields recently boosted its Washington office by poaching four US partners from Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, while Cameron McKenna last month bought up six-lawyer Washington energy firm Morley Caskin.
Clifford Chance's office will open next January with three partners and three associates. But the firm said it would "increase these resources substantially over the next year, exploiting its reputation to recruit senior US lawyers".
Rodney Short, the London-based head of the firm's worldwide projects group, will relocate to the US to head up the new office. He will be joined by Jeremy Connick and David Evans, currently general counsel at Washington-based power developer KMR, who joins Clifford Chance at the beginning of December.
Short said: "We believe long-term demand for project finance expertise will experience above average growth in three major markets - South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and the Americas.
"We have established leading practices in the first two and are developing a leading practice in the third. "
He said the Washington office would work alongside the New York and SAo Paulo offices to capitalise on the expanding Latin American and US energy market.