Grapevine

It must be groans all round at Clifford Chance today.

Just a couple of days ago, global managing partner Peter Cornell and regional managing partner of the Americas John Carroll appeared in the national press, cosily pictured and waxing lyrical about Clifford Chance’s US practice.

And then guess what happens? Yet another rainmaker jumps ship.

This time it’s Leora Ben-Ami, Clifford Chance’s head of intellectual property for the Americas, who, with partners Thomas Fleming and Patricia Carson, is moving to New York’s Kaye Scholer.

Following this year’s exits of antitrust stars Kevin Arquit and Steve Newborn, to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Weil Gotshal & Manges respectively, Ben-Ami’s departure is clearly another body blow to Clifford Chance.

Unlike Arquit and Newborn, however, Ben-Ami’s defection is not such a surprise. In New York’s legal circles, it has been an open secret for some weeks that the partner has been scouting out a new home.

But it appears that even long before that, Ben-Ami had become discontent at Clifford Chance. Just after Arquit left, a group of six partners, including Ben-Ami, were said to have approached management about the re-distribution of the antitrust partner’s extra points.

Arquit, along with Newborn, had been compensated above the top of lockstep, which at Clifford Chance is 100 points. On his departure the extra 100 points Arquit was paid were perceived to be up for grabs.

This was, apparently, among a number of triggers that prompted the recent compensation review at Clifford Chance.

Although overall partners voted in favour of lockstep with a pool of extra points for high-billing US partners, the requisite majority needed from legacy Clifford Chance partners to push the new scheme was missed by less than 1 per cent. This means that there will have to be another vote next year.

Ben-Ami was not prepared to wait. And if one of the six has lost patience, then you have to wonder if the other rebels could soon be following her out the door.

It’s certainly a political minefield and one that the determined and hardworking Cornell could do without.

Meanwhile, over at Stephenson Harwood the firm’s chief executive John Pike has stepped down and litigator Sunil Gadhia is taking over.

Pike must be delighted about returning to fee-earning, especially considering that since the firm’s merger with Sinclair Roche & Temperley in May 2002, partner losses are running into double figures.

The well-liked Mr Gadhia has been left with quite a legacy.