Focusing minds on limited liability

Clifford Chance has killed two birds with one stone. Not only has it created the first UK-US law firm, it has also achieved via the back door what it has wanted for years – limited liability partnership (LLP) status.

LLPs protect partners' personal assets from negligence claims against the firm, and Clifford Chance should now be protected under in the US where the firm is to be registered.

The UK firm was hit by a u610m claim in 1994, which was eventually settled for u10m plus costs. Since then it has been an open secret that the Clifford Chance would become an LLP if the UK Government finally passed legislation.

The question of course is would an English court really accept that Clifford Chance is a US firm when 2,000 of its 2,700 lawyers were from the UK firm?

And most importantly, will the Government now push through its Limited Liability Partnership Bill, which has stalled in the Commons apparently for being too boring?

The news that the on-off merger is definitely taking place has shaken up the legal world and other big firms may be looking to speed up their own international expansion. But Clifford Chance may just have done its rivals a favour by concentrating minds at Westminster.