CC merges with Rogers & Wells and Pünder
Another decade, another merger. Clifford Chance’s transformative merger in 1987 solidified its domestic presence, but the firm’s ambitions were global. Having launched its own US practice in 1995 with Nancy Jacklin, and its German practice in 1996 with hires from Wessing & Berenberg-Gossler. The magic circle firm had become increasingly impatient at growing its presence just in those key jurisdictions.
In Germany Clifford Chance originally approached Bruckhaus Westrick Stegemann and Boesebeck Droste, but both firms declined. Bruckhaus ended up with Freshfields, and Boesebeck with Lovells. At the time Pünder was the fourth-largest firm in Germany, with 185 lawyers (dwarfed by Clifford Chance’s total of 2,050 lawyers in 1999).
In anticipation of the tie-up Rogers & Wells started to offer $2m (£3.23m) for New York M&A big-hitters. But rumblings over the compensation system, an issue which would dog the US arm for five years, were already beginning.
Most of the Rogers & Wells partners would come onto the Clifford Chance lockstep, but there was provision in the merger agreement for a handful of partners to remain outside the lockstep.
The three-way merger could have been a four-way deal. Clifford Chance was also in serious talks with 870-lawyer Mallesons, attracted by the Australian giant’s banking practice in particular, but the deal was simply too big for Clifford Chance to swallow.
Freshfields rows with Citibank
The City story of the year, although was The Lawyer’s revelation of Freshfields being blackballed by its biggest banking client Citibank because the firm was acting in litigation against the bank over the collapse of a company in Singapore.
A source close to the situation said: “The Citibank board has reacted very badly to a letter that Freshfields wrote to them. I would guess, knowing the kind of letters litigators write, that it was quite fruity.”
Freshfields insisted that it had had a waiver from the bank to do so, but the row cast a shadow over its attempts to build a banking practice.
Clifford Chance was the immediate beneficiary. Not only did it get more work out of Citibank, but also scooped former Wilde Sapte banking partner James Johnson, who was in talks with Freshfields at the time.
Rebound merger of the year
Denton Hall merges with Wilde Sapte after a history of failed merger attempts on each side. Wilde Sapte had nearly merged with Arthur Andersen but, after six months of talks and approval from Wilde Sapte partners, the accountancy firm pulled out of the deal.
Denton Hall, for its part, was in tripartite talks with Cameron Markby Hewitt and McKenna & Co, and later in another set of talks with Richards Butler and Theodore Goddard.
However, key Wilde Sapte finance partners such as James Johnson and Nick Syson did not sign up to the merger and built their careers at Clifford Chance and Linklaters respectively.
DAC weathers a very big storm
Davies Arnold Cooper (DAC), one of the hot stocks of the 1990s and synonymous with defendant insurance work, suddenly ran into trouble with a series of damaging defections.
The firm, now led by managing director Nick Sinfield, embarked on a radical restructuring exercise that involved axing the corporate department in Manchester and making 90 staff redundant. DAC refocused around insurance and property. In 1999 the firm entered preliminary merger talks with fellow insurance specialist Berrymans Lace Mawer, which foundered after a few months.
The embarrassing exit moment
Founded in 1994, in the late 1990s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal made high-profile recruitments from magic circle firms Allen & Overy (A&O) and Linklaters. The news came as a shock to the London lawyers and was announced to them by chairman Duane Quaini.
Sonnenschein had offered up to £750,000 for City lawyers to join the practice. Recruits were promised commitment from the Chicago partners. But there was little referral work coming from the US, and in April 1998 it imposed a hiring freeze. It began talks with Warner Cranston, which ended up merging with another US firm, Reed Smith.
In-house teams’ pro bono approach
British Aerospace (BAe) and Zurich Financial Services become the first two in-house teams to demand that firms involve themselves in pro bono. Both signed up to the Solicitors Pro Bono Group. BAe even threatened firms with removal from its panel unless it saw commitment on the issue.
Ungrateful partnership vote of the year
A&O senior partner Bill Tudor John was ousted in a contested election by Guy Beringer. Tudor John had hauled A&O into the modern age, more than doubling the firm in size during his tenure. But his forthright approach was blamed for the putsch.
Cheekiest move of the year
Finers merged with Stephens Innocent, which it had been advising in the latter’s merger discussions with Rakisons.
“This came as somewhat of a surprise,” said Rakisons senior partner Tony Wollenberg in what was possibly the understatement of the year.
The end of a soap opera
Edward Lewis dissolved following a spate of departures, rows, a failed coup and sex discrimination allegations.
Imran Khan represented Neville and Doreen Lawrence, the parents of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence, throughout their fight with the Metropolitan Police and, in their eyes, the UK judicial system.
Khan’s work, alongside Michael Mansfield QC, ensured that his and the Lawrences’ key aim – to obtain an admittance of institutional racism within the police – stayed within the public and profession’s mind. This steadfast commitment to simple legal principles did not waver, despite the attempted hijacking of the case by various different interest groups.
In 1999 Khan was voted by the readers of The Lawyer as Legal Personality of the Year and received a standing
ovation at The Lawyer Awards that year.