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Clifford Chance is aiming to take on and beat US firms in their own market within 10 years, according to the practice's new internally-circulated mission statement.
In its first such statement since it was formed by merger a decade ago, Clifford Chance's management board effectively states that it wants to provide a full US corporate/commercial legal service for multinational clients in a bid to become "the world's premier law firm".
The statement, presented orally to staff over the past three weeks and praised by a senior City rival for its boldness, says that if its objectives are achieved: "It is likely that in 10 year's time well over half our people will be based outside the UK."
Controversially, clients will be divided into three categories. Top priority will be given to multinationals and governments, second will come major corporates that act solely within the catchment area of one of the firm's offices and lowest priority will be given to smaller corporates whose activities are mainly confined to one jurisdiction.
"In the US our initial aim will be to field a highly regarded team of US lawyers, some based in Europe and Asia, to compete successfully with the top US firms for international financial work. At a later stage, we will expect to offer the full range of services."
In London, western Europe and Asia, Clifford Chance aims to be number one for finance and among the top three firms for corporate/commercial services. It warns: "This will require material growth in our corporate/commercial practice."
The firm wants to be among the top three for property, dispute resolution and tax in London, but elsewhere in western Europe these services will support the finance and corporate/commercial clients.
In central and eastern Europe Clifford Chance plans to be among the top three in specific areas of work only.
It wants every office and practice area to increase the proportion of its firm-wide work. So each office and practice area will be given two objectives - a local objective to offer targeted services to priority clients and a firm-wide objective to contribute to transactions supervised by other parts of the practice.
Major clients will have an international account partner who will draw together integrated client teams from across offices and practice areas.
Clifford Chance senior partner Keith Clark said the strategy had been drawn up over the past few months in consultation with all partners. On US competition he said: "It is clear to us that that is the way the world is going."
One senior partner at a rival firm commented: "It is dangerous to encourage staff to categorise clients - medium-sized corporates often generate more fee income as they do not have large in-house legal teams."
Freshfields senior partner Anthony Salz said his firm had decided not to tackle the US lawyers head on. "But 10 years is a long time," he said.