Clifford Chance pushes forward on full-equity overhaul

Plans to overhaul Clifford Chance’s equity structure are “still on the agenda” at the firm, with discussions taking place at practice area and jurisdictional level on a possible move to a full-equity partnership.

Global managing partner Matthew Layton was elected on a manifesto of significant change at the magic circle firm that included a proposed review of its salaried partner band.

The review kicked off a debate about bringing all salaried partners into the equity in order to create a more collegiate atmosphere at the firm. Around 30 per cent of Clifford Chance partners are currently non-equity (166 of a total 569 partners, according to The Lawyer UK 200 2015).

Layton told The Lawyer he was “continuing to look at” plans to adapt the partnership structure, adding: “We haven’t yet got a specific plan as to how it might work.”

Matthew Layton
Matthew Layton

“We’re still reviewing our position as to whether a full equity structure is the right objective, or whether some other modifications to the existing non-equity structure would be a better option, but we’re looking at it.”

He added: “My approach is that the leadership group should be consulting and working as a team to come up with a set of recommendations to present to the partners, though if we wanted to make radical changes that would change the partnership agreement it would go to a vote.

“The consultation is being done through the regions and practice areas up to the leadership group.”

Sources close to Clifford Chance have praised Layton’s commitment to “shaking up” the firm’s bureaucracy and governance in his two years as global head.

Changes to equity and remuneration are currently a hot topic among the magic circle, with Clifford Chance arguably leading the way by voting in an extension to its lockstep ladder to attract star lateral hires early last year.

The ‘superpoints’ system has since been adopted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which flexed its lockstep to bring in high yield star Ward McKimm from Kirkland & Ellis last summer on a reported 100 points (around £3m).