Whoever wins will have a tough job on their hands. Market perception is that Clifford Chance has dropped the litigation ball of late and the global practice leader will be expected to reposition the group.
“I see it as a leadership role rather than one of management,” says Brock. “We need to demonstrate that we have a powerful litigation group globally. That’s something the new leader will be responsible for.”
Enhancing the firm’s global litigation brand is high on the agenda. In recent years Clifford Chance’s international network has not been a roaring success in litigation.
The US has suffered the most. After laying off 20 associates in its Washington DC and New York litigation groups last October, the firm has suffered a string of defections.
This came to a head in June, when New York-based global head of litigation Mark Kirsch defected to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher with partners Joel Cohen and Christopher Joralemon, hence the current election.
In May, former global litigation head Peter Chaffetz left the New York office to set up an international arbitration and reinsurance boutique with fellow partners David Lindsay, Charlie Scibetta, James Hosking and counsel Cecilia Moss.
Historically, the leader of the firm’s global litigation practice has been based in New York. Now, the powerbase has shifted. With both contenders based in the London office it is clear that Clifford Chance wants things to change.
“There’s hardly anyone left in the US,” says one former partner. “It doesn’t make sense to lead the practice from that part of the network anymore.”
Both Sandelson and Brock acknowledge that there have been difficulties in the US.
“Traditionally the head has been based in America. This is no longer going to be the case,” says Sandelson. “A lot has changed in the US and the wider litigation group. The firm needs to respond to that.”
It is crucial that whoever wins the election unites the teams across the network.
“The US is crucial for a global litigation practice,” says one partner at a US firm. “They’re very weak there. A lot needs to be done if Clifford Chance wants to be a credible litigation firm.”
Readers of TheLawyer. com certainly have opinions about who should win the role.
“I work at Clifford Chance and I don’t even know who Denis Brock is,” posted one reader. “I think Jeremy has a much higher profile in London and is very well-liked and respected. He’s very charismatic and has done very well in light of the downturn.”
Another reader wrote: “Jeremy has overwhelming support in London and globally. Denis is a good lawyer and did a good job in Asia but he won’t get the job. The big question is why is Nick Munday not running? He definitely wanted the job.”
It is fair to say that both Sandelson and Brock have strong credentials and experience of leadership, with the contest shaping up to be a tough fight. Partners have until Wednesday (7 October) to vote for their preferred candidate.
Regardless of who emerges as the winner, the fact that the leadership of the litigation group is coming back to the firm’s headquarters shows that Clifford Chance will keep tight control over how it rebuilds its litigation capabilities.
London-based partner Denis Brock was head of the firm’s Asian litigation practice from 1997 until 2006. Based in the Hong Kong office for the duration of that period, Brock had to unite the litigation teams across the Asian network.
“Each of the offices were quite different,” says Brock, “so I have experience leading teams across several different offices. I think that element of my experience is particularly valuable.”
While litigators at rival firms view Brock as something of an unknown quantity, his time as Asia litigation head makes him a strong contender.
That said, Sandelson has also got experience of leading a litigation group at the firm, having headed the London practice before building on his management experience in his current job as London managing partner.
“As managing partner of the London office I would like to feel that I’ve contributed to the stability of the firm during challenging times,” says Sandelson. “If elected I would like to try to build up our capabilities so we’re recognised as the global leader in litigation and arbitration.”