IT HAS been a bleak few months in Clifford Chance’s US practice.

There was the reshaping of the global partnership plus the raft of partner defections that have plagued the firm’s New York and Washington DC offices over the past few months.

Clifford Chance’s partnership cull is now well underway and for several US litgation partners, their time at the magic circle firm is coming to an end.

Earlier this month, The Lawyer reported that Clifford Chance planned to reduce the size of its US litigation group to around 10 partners across both offices (11 May). The final cuts have now been made.

New York’s litigation team has been cut to just six partners, with seven in DC.

These cuts follow a series of defections last year and a round of associate layoffs last October that blew a hole into Clifford Chance’s disputes department.
Litigation partners John Carroll, David Meister and Warren Feldman jumped through it when they joined Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in December (, 2 December)

Now, with what amounts to a skeleton team in New York and Washington focusing on securities litigation and regulatory, questions are being asked about whether the group can survive in the long term.

It is fair to say that Clifford Chance has opted for what one might charitably call a ‘focused team’. But compared with its US rivals, the magic circle firm’s litigation group looks puny to say the least.

Many in the legal market are certainly dubious. “I don’t see how they can justify keeping it going,” argues one former Clifford Chance partner. “The firm now lacks the depth of practice it needs for the US.”

Maintaining a credible litigation team with just 13 partners across two offices does smack of over optimism but despite the ­dramatic cut backs, Clifford Chance is determined to stay strong.

“We feel that we have the right capabilities for where we want to be in the US,” says one Clifford Chance insider. “It’s not the largest team but it has the key aspects of litigation that we need.”

Another insider adds: “Yes, there are aspects of litigation we still need, but we are confident in the partners we have here.”

Clifford Chance is likely to need that level of determination and confidence over the coming months.