Clifford Chance prepares for exit of top rainmaker

Litigation star Benedict poised to leave as Childs predicts 2005 plateau profits hike to £850,000

Clifford Chance prepares for exit of top rainmaker” />Clifford Chance is on the verge of losing one of its biggest rainmakers, former US managing partner Jim Benedict, just as the firm unveils ambitious plans to increase this year’s profits by 35 per cent.

It is understood that Benedict is being courted by a number of leading New York firms, including Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. It is expected that should Benedict leave, litigation partner Sean Murphy will move with him. He was formerly the global head of litigation but stepped down suddenly in May.

Benedict’s book of business is valued at an estimated $7m-$10m (£3.9m-£5.6m), and he is one of just a handful of US partners paid above Clifford Chance’s top of lockstep at 100 units.

Benedict is the latest in a long line of big-billing US partners to have left the magic circle firm’s Stateside operation over the past two years. Since last October alone, it is estimated that a total $40m-$52m (£22.4m-£29.2m) worth of revenue has walked out of the door with partners including antitrust star Steve Newborn, IP expert Leora Ben-Ami and derivatives and structured products partner David Taub.

The firm’s management is nevertheless predicting that at the end of this financial year, profits at the top of lockstep will reach £850,000. This is a 35 per cent increase on its disappointing result for 2003-04, when plateau partners took home £630,000.

The forecast is in line with a three-year plan drawn up by chief operating officer and global head of corporate David Childs. It is hoped that the top of equity will increase year-on-year to £850,000, to £1m and, in the third year, to £1.2m.

Clifford Chance is also understood to be preparing to ask partners to stump up more in capital contributions.

Already this year, as revealed exclusively by The Lawyer (9 February), partners were asked for £1,000 a point, equating to £100,000 for plateau partners, to shift £30m of borrowings away from its bank facility.

Clifford Chance, Benedict and Milbank all declined to comment. Skadden was unavailable for comment.