Clifford Chance is considering a radical plan to take shares as part payment of fees – not just from start-up companies but from any client.
This week, finance partner and former Law Society president Michael Mathews will submit a preliminary report to the firm’s management on the ethical considerations involved in taking a stake in clients.
Mathews says his role is confined to raising ethical and accounting questions and he will not be involved in looking at business implications.
This includes conflicts and exposure to risk if the company floats. He says: “I am about to submit an initial report to the management board to take a decision. It could go either way.”
Mathews says Clifford Chance’s chief executive officer Michael Bray is expected to come to his decision within three months.
Mathews indicates that an affirmative answer is not a foregone conclusion.
He says: “Bray may not agree with me. It will turn on how strong the need is in the context of the firm’s business.”
On the business side, the firm is expected to look into whether the option could be introduced for the firm’s larger clients – a move which would have a massive impact on the firm and revolutionise the way it collects fees.
Mathews says the move was shown to be viable because of the success of internet start-ups.
The move follows Linklaters‘ announcement of a plan to accept equity shares in part payment, making it the first magic circle firm to do so.
Michael Chissick, head of IT and online at Field Fisher Waterhouse, says he is glad magic circle firms are beginning to take equity.
He says: “I find it quite flattering. It is nice to see the likes of Linklaters following our lead and gives it an air of respectability.”
Chissick says Field Fisher also set up a validation committee to look into ethics and found that it is possible to set up outside trusts to resolve flotation and listing problems.
The firm recently struck a deal with issue-based internet business Dr Parsley and is now involved in a further two deals.
Tarlo Lyons has also joined the flock by taking an equity stake in internet client Netcentric System.