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TWO leading Rowe & Maw corporate partners have defected to Clifford Chance and two more may follow - despite a concerted rearguard action by the firm to persuade them to stay.
Highly rated corporate partner Paul Maher and Brussels-based competition partner Simon Baxter have already resigned from the partnership.
Andrew Copley and Peter Dickinson are still considering Clifford Chance's offer.
A fifth potential defector, Andy Stewart, has been persuaded to remain with the firm.
Rowe & Maw managing partner Andrew Carruthers convened a special meeting of the corporate department last week to break the news of the defections.
In an effort to persuade partners' assistants to stay at the firm, he reassured them that it would still have sufficient work to keep them all on.
It is understood that Carruthers is still trying to persuade Copley and Dickinson to stay. Asked if it was true that he was leaving for Clifford Chance, Copley would say only that this was "not yet correct".
A source at the firm said the partners being tempted by Clifford Chance were relatively young and had become dissatisfied with Rowe & Maw's lockstep system of remuneration. The source added that the partners thought they were not being sufficiently rewarded for their work, although working at Clifford Chance would have had its own obvious attractions.
Maher, Copley and Baxter have just advised Monsanto on its £320m acquisition of Unilever's plant breeding business.
Carruthers told The Lawyer: "It may be an odd thing to say but it is flattering that they have been approached."
But he insisted the firm had a "flexible system" for rewarding partners and added that the firm had taken on more fee earners that it had lost this year.