In a shock move, Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells US managing partner Larry Cranch is stepping down a year early to be replaced by global head of litigation Jim Benedict. This is just the latest development in a major shake-up of the firm's global management.
Clifford Chance chief executive officer Michael Bray says: "Larry's resigning and Jim Benedict is the obvious person to take over."
A senior source at the firm says: "[Benedict] is someone I'd like to have managing not only the Americas, but the firm globally."
Another Clifford Chance source says: "It's end of stage one. [Larry] handled the integration and operations post-merger. It's the next stage of implementation now. There are appropriate moments when the batons are changed."
Benedict, who will have to be confirmed by a partnership vote, will oversee the full integration of the lockstep, due to begin in 2002. Several US partners remain outside the firm's seniority-based lockstep pay structure. These include Cranch himself, who has 25 extra points on top of the plateau partners' 100, and Benedict, thought to be on 200 points, or twice as much as the firm's top equity partners. It is believed Cranch will retain his extra 25 points despite stepping down.
Other so-called US "superpointers" include key rainmakers and antitrust partners Kevin Arquit and Steve Newborn, understood to be earning $2m (£1.4m) each. According to The Lawyer 100, top equity partners at Clifford Chance last year earned £804,000.
Cranch's departure is one of the most radical changes in the firm's senior management since its 1999 merger. But the firm will also have to decide who fills the roles of chief operating officer and Asia managing partner.
The Lawyer (8 January) revealed that chief operating officer Garth Pollard will leave this summer; and banking partner John East (22 January) was stepping down from his position as Asia managing partner to return to London.
Cranch has been with the firm for more than 30 years and a partner for over 20. He will be 55 at the end of the summer, the standard retirement age for partners. Prior to the 1999 Clifford Chance merger, Rogers & Wells partners retired at 65. Cranch declined to comment on his future with the firm, other than to say that he was still considering his options.
Cranch's departure comes amid concerns in certain parts of the firm that Rogers & Wells has been slow at building up its corporate practice in New York. While Rogers & Wells has long enjoyed a pre-eminent reputation for litigation, it has lagged behind other Wall Street firms in M&A work. It is understood that there was some impatience internally with Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells' perceived lack of growth in its corporate practice.