CC to plug funds practice gap

Magic circle firm aims to boost partner count as associate ranks thin

Sometimes it is not just about the partners. Clifford Chance’s investment funds practice has had a torrid year, with four partners – one a tax lawyer – quitting for Weil Gotshal & Manges last summer.

Six funds associates and a tax associate then compounded the firm’s misery by following partners Ed Gander, Nigel Clark, Nick Benson and Jonathan Kandel to the US firm, with a further funds associate leaving for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

The magic circle firm had 23 associates in the pure fund formation team before the raid, but with two going on maternity leave and seven heading off to rivals, the Canary Wharf outfit’s associate team had been cut by more than a third by September.

Losing associates would not be too much of a problem had the firm not pinned its hopes on talent below partner level. Funds head Nigel Hatfield had been seeking outside talent through headhunter Jonathan Glass, picking up Debevoise & Plimpton counsel Gerard Saviola as a partner, but the firm remains committed to rebuilding the practice by focusing on internal capability.

This may not be quite as radical as SJ Berwin’s four-strong funds partner promotion round last year after two partners and six associates quit for Proskauer Rose, but Clifford Chance is eyeing emergency measures. It is flying in Ilomai Kurrik, one of the New York funds team’s top associates and hiring two newly qualified lawyers in the City. The odd promotion in May would not surprise – Lee Sheldon is particularly well thought of.

The firm also aims to increase associate secondments, with senior associate Seema Shah on loan to a private equity client. Shah is one to watch, with her role on BC Partners’ €6bn (£5bn) BC European Capital IX fundraising making her a key link, although her secondment is to a rival house.

Benson advised on the fund until the end of his notice period, finishing the deal off at Weil. Hatfield is thought to have close links with BC – and with his key retained clients Apax, Bridgepoint and 3i – but it may be the associates who rivals should be watching.