Clifford Chance New York rainmaker quits for Kaye

Clifford Chance’s New York intellectual property (IP) group has been hit with a series of defections, including its high-billing head of department.

Leora Ben-Ami, also a former member of Clifford Chance’s post-merger governing board, is taking IP partners Patricia Carson and Thomas Fleming to New York’s Kaye Scholer.

Eric Lobenfeld, also an IP partner, is leaving for Hogan & Hartson just two years after joining Clifford Chance with two other partners from Chadbourne & Parke, where he had been head of IP.

Ben-Ami’s move is a particular blow for Clifford Chance in the US since she is the third Stateside rainmaker to leave the firm in less than a year: trust stars Kevin Arquit and Steve Newborn left for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Weil Gotshal & Manges respectively.

Among Ben-Ami’s list of clients are chemical giant DuPont and pharmaceutical leader Pfizer, which also uses 500-lawyer Kaye Scholer for IP advice.

With the four partner exits, Clifford Chance’s New York IP group (the firm’s largest) is reduced by more than 20 per cent.

It is understood that Ben-Ami had been one of six partners who approached management about the
re-allocation of Arquit’s extra points after his departure earlier this year.

Arquit was one of two partners (the other was Newborn) who received an extra 100 points on top of his plateau 100 units. The group’s approach to management helped spur Clifford Chance’s recent compensation review.

However, Ben-Ami said her decision to move to Kaye Scholer “has nothing to do with compensation”.

Clifford Chance and Hogan & Hartson were unavailable for comment.

Where does Clifford Chance’s high-biller go from here?

“To lose a partner to a top-ranking firm is one thing, but to lose a person to a mid-level firm seems like carelessness.”

Like this law-spun Oscar Wilde witticism, many are puzzled by Clifford Chance IP star Leora Ben-Ami’s choice of Kaye Scholer as her new firm.

Compared to the likes of Kirkland & Ellis and Weil Gotshal & Manges, where Ben-Ami was also understood to be interviewing, Kaye Scholer is in a different league.

But look closer at the New York firm and revealed is a perfect example of genuine financial progress and prudent firm management.

In five years, gross revenues have grown by a staggering 70.9 per cent to $311m (£181m), while profits per partner have more than doubled, up 58 per cent to $980,000 (£569,000).

A five-year increase in lawyer numbers, from more than 300 in 1998 to 435 by 2002 (this has since increased to 500), with equity partners nudging up by 21 to 114, has served to increase profits rather than dent the bottom line like other less savvy firms.

For plateau partner Ben-Ami, financially the move makes sense. While Clifford Chance’s top of equity last year equated to $1.3m (£0.8m), it is known that a group of three or four partners at Kaye Scholer earned up to $2m (£1.2m). It would be staggering if Ben-Ami was not compensated at this level.

Kaye Scholer spent a year looking for a senior IP partner (sources hint that there may be unresolved succession issues at the firm) and struck gold with Ben-Ami.