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Clifford Chance and Wilde Sapte are hitting back at US firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft's raid on their staff by putting their three defecting partners on gardening leave and holding them to their full notice periods.
Although Cadwaladers' new London derivatives practice opened on schedule at the beginning of this month, only one partner has been able to start work - one will have to wait until November and two until next summer.
Clifford Chance put Andrew Wilkinson, its leading insurance insolvency partner, on gardening leave last week and is believed to be holding him to his full 12-month notice. Clifford Chance refused to comment but one source claimed Wilkinson had not been expecting the move, adding: "He's not very happy about it."
Wilde Sapte is holding its defecting partners, Russell Jacobs and John Walker, to their six- and 13-month notice respectively. This means Jacobs will not be able to start at Cadwaladers until November and Walker will have to wait until next June. Walker is already on gardening leave and Jacobs is expected to be sent on leave shortly.
One former Wilde Sapte assistant, Matthew Cain, who has started at Cadwaladers, said: "I think it has come as a surprise to the US partners that these notice periods exist and that they are being enforced. But it wasn't a surprise to us." He said Wilde Sapte had held tax partner Miles Walton to his full notice when he resigned in March to go to Allen & Overy.
Wilde Sapte's managing partner Steve Blakeley said: "I don't see anything aggressive about it, it's just sensible commercial practice. The partners all agreed to put these terms in our articles some years ago, there's no point having them if you don't use them."
James Starkey, a former Freshfields partner whose notice period has been waived, said "time would tell" whether the three others would in fact be held to their full notice period. He said he had discussed with the other three the possibility that these notices would be enforced. "We always thought we might arrive at staggered intervals," he said.
All four Wilde Sapte assistants and two Clifford Chance assistants who defected in May are working at Cadwaladers' temporary office on London Wall. The firm said three more City lawyers were to join soon.