No room for improvement at Clifford Chance

Dewey & LeBoeuf will be wishing it had the same problems haunting Clifford Chance.

As Dewey partners continue to jump ship as though someone had let off a stink bomb in the canteen, Clifford Chance finds itself battling an entirely opposite challenge: it simply can’t get slacking partners out of the door quickly and tidily enough.

Trying to axe underperforming partners without undue delay and with minimal cultural damage is never going to be a happy endeavour, but Clifford Chance now thinks it can do it better.

The magic circle firm has asked partners for feedback on plans to scrap its ’improvement’ period, which, under the current system, represents between nine and twelve months of grace for partners who have been issued with a formal performance warning from managing partner David Childs or the office chief – David Bickerton in the case of City partners.

The new system, it is claimed, will make the whole process nicer by removing the culturally damaging limbo period during which partners know the headmaster wants them expelled but the rules say they get another chance.

How to keep partners on their toes is a hot topic in light of major equity reviews from competitors such as Linklaters, Herbert Smith and Allen & Overy. CC says it has no plans to follow suit, but talk of the Canary Wharf giant managing the performance of its partners rather actively lately has been doing the rounds in the City.

At Clifford Chance, it seems, you only live once.