Clifford Chance loses another US litigation chief as Cleary swoops

Clifford Chance US litigation chief Juan Morillo has defected to Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton after spending two years in the role.

Washington DC-based Morillo took control of Clifford Chance’s US litigation practice following the sudden exit of Mark Kirsch in May 2009 (29 May 2009). He has now been replaced by Washington DC managing partner David DiBari.

Morillo’s appointment halted a slew of litigation exits from the firm, including white-collar specialist John Carroll, who joined Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in 2008, and Kirsch and his team, who left for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (11 October 2010).

Morillo was perceived as the partner to pull the practice back together. In October last year he told The Lawyer that Clifford Chance was committed to investment in its US offices.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t,” he insisted. “We can’t grow substantially in London or Continental Europe anymore. Asia is, of course, a growth area but there are inherent limitations to our ability to grow in China and India. So the natural focus of growth is the US market. As a business imperative, that presents the real immediate opportunity for the firm in terms of growth.”

On his move to Cleary, Morillo said: “Over the last few years my practice has expanded domestically and internationally. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of Cleary Gottlieb’s strong domestic and international reputation across many practice areas and am excited to be joining this growing global litigation group.”

Morillo joined Clifford Chance in July 2007 from Sidley Austin, where he was also a partner.

According to one rival partner the hunt for litigators is hotting up in the US. “Cleary has been looking for a top litigator for a long time, as has everybody else,” the partner said.

In addition to Morillo, Cleary is being rejoined by partner David Becker, who has spent the last two years as general counsel and senior policy director of the US Securities and Exchange Commission

“With their addition, the firm’s Washington office will have 13 litigation partners, and the firm will increase the number of partners with senior government experience,” said firmwide managing partner Mark Leddy.

A spokesperson for Clifford Chance said: “We wish Juan all the best. We’re enthusiastic about the election of David DiBari as the Americas practice area leader for litigation and dispute resolution. He received strong support from his fellow partners and is the natural choice for the role given his management experience and his position on the leadership teams for the Americas, and the global litigation practice. We couldn’t have a better person at the helm than David.”