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When you look at Clifford Chance’s sprawling global practice, you wonder why any of its partners would ever stand for the leadership election. The Italian mutiny is over, but the management still has to deal with constant fusillades from its rebel province in the US, as well as the odd sniper in London. Freshfields’ Hugh Crisp, who’s got the simple task of pacifying a few grumbling Germans, must be slack-jawed with relief.
But here’s some good news for Clifford Chance. Its management has decided that it’s not going to be held ransom by the Americans; the festival has ended, and the boys are heading for a fall. The ex-Brobeck team will probably be a good fit for Orrick, although you can bet that Tower Snow won’t be part of the package – his exit from Orrick a few years ago was frankly sulphurous. The idea of Snow and Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter in the same postal district, let alone the same firm, is enough to make Californian lawyers choke on their skinny lattes.
The bad news is that the four West Coast offices caused less of a management headache for London than New York and Washington DC. With decent work for the likes of Nike and Intel, the West Coast saved the Americas practice from financial ignominy the year before last. In 2002-03, East Coast turnover was £205m – a 15 per cent drop on 2001-02. Thanks to the West Coast contribution of £30m, the total revenue figure for the Americas was down just 2 per cent.
Yet East and West, yoked together by London in an uneasy alliance, never integrated. It would be too easy to blame this on Tower Snow; the fact is, it would be harder to find a more irascible bunch than the Easterners. A seething, querulous minority in New York have constantly made trouble – partly because of status anxiety (Wall Street lawyers will always take pot shots at a UK firm in Manhattan) and partly because of the lockstep issue. Clifford Chance tried to defuse that by its compensation review, only to see several key partners leave anyway.
So you can hardly blame the Clifford Chance management for taking a tougher stance. Patience and inclusivity can only go so far. It certainly worked with Grimaldi, because the Italian practice is well off the critical list. There’s just one thing which will make Peter Cornell and David Childs’ jobs easier in future – if Clifford Chance could just wean itself off the grand gesture in the first place.