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STEPHENSON Harwood has agreed to leave the secret information-sharing 'Club of Nine' City firms.
The rarely publicly acknowledged but widely-known grouping of the senior partners from nine major City firms has met twice-yearly for many years with a formal written agenda to discuss matters of mutual interest.
Stephensons is believed to have been asked to leave the "magic circle" shortly before the appointment of David Slade as senior partner in May.
Slade said he was not directly involved in the decision but said he thought it "was done by mutual agreement".
He added: "The idea was to share information but the information the bigger firms like Allen & Overy and Linklaters had was different to what we were involved in. It was chalk and cheese really. I'm totally relaxed about it."
The members of the group have changed over the years. Seven of the remaining eight are believed to be: Slaughter and May, Linklaters & Paines, Allen & Overy, Norton Rose, Herbert Smith, Ashurst Morris Crisp and Lovell White Durrant.
The membership is more based on personal relationships between senior partners than on the size of firm. Slade's predecessor Anthony Isaacs was friendly with senior Slaughter and May lawyers and it is believed his retirement in May may have had something to do with Stephensons' removal from the group.
Stephensons' participation had been questioned for some time by senior City solicitors, since the firm is smaller than most of the other nine and has been moving more towards shipping and property, away from the corporate business that the others concentrate on.
Most of the senior partners in the club are nervous about talking about the group. In the past it is believed it operated a non-poaching pact in a bid to keep salaries down.
One senior partner in the club said the grouping is "constantly shifting in its membership. The agenda, as far as I've seen, has always been harmless."
Robin Smith, national senior partner at Dibb Lupton Broomhead, commented: "I know of the Club of Nine... I only wish they'd make it the club of 10 - my invitation always seems to get lost in the post!"