From CC to ICC… and back again

Return of Jason Fry re-establishes magic circle firm’s arbitration credentials

The revolving door between the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration and Clifford Chance spun a little faster last week as the magic circle firm rehired the court’s secretary general as a partner.

Jason Fry, who took up the ICC role in 2007, will return to Clifford Chance in Paris in September this year. He will co-head the firm’s arbitration group alongside incumbent Audley Sheppard.

His is the second hire the firm has made from the ICC in six months.

In October Clifford Chance announced that deputy secretary general Simon Greenberg will join as a counsel at the end of this month. Meanwhile, former partner John Beechey is coming to the end of his term as president of the court.

Fry’s appointment has caused ripples of interest because of what it means for the ICC and for Clifford Chance. At the ICC Fry has spent much of his term on the design of the court’s new arbitral rules, which came into force this year. There was controversy as former secretaries general were excluded, but arbitrators say the three-stage consultation process satisfied most people. The rules handbook was also overdue for a review, having last been amended in the late 1990s.

The completion of this review process is a natural time for Fry to step down, say market sources.

For a lawyer, the secretary general role can be rather administrative, and many former holders of the post have gone back to private practice after a few years.

His successor is likely to be recruited from a similar background. While the ICC must advertise the post internally, according to sources the most recent secretaries general have been external appointments.

Meanwhile, competitors think Clifford Chance’s profile, weakened in recent years by the loss of Beechey and Fry to the ICC and by other departures, such as that
of Nicholas Fletcher to Berwin Leighton Paisner in 2009, could do with the boost the appointments of Fry and Greenberg will give it.

Crucially, Fry’s presence in Paris sends a message to the market that the firm is once again investing in what remains one of the two major arbitration centres in the world.
In the current litigation-heavy environment, that is an important signal.