Clifford Chance has taken responsibility for conflict checks away from partners and has set up an internal compliance function – the first of its kind in Europe.
The firm brought in the new conflicts function to the Frankfurt office last week.
Impetus for the move came after the merger with Rogers & Wells and Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster last year, which operated different conflict-checking systems.
Angela Robertson, who heads the conflicts clearance centre, says: “It became apparent that because of the increased size of the firm we were going to have to revisit the way we deal with conflicts.”
The centre is part of a general attempt by Clifford Chance to clear up its client list. Chris Perrin, deputy chief operating officer, says: “The former Clifford Chance was notoriously bad at closing off files – when a matter was finished it wasn’t always recorded in the systems as over. So it was common practice to get a hit against it but only to discover later that it wasn’t relevant.”
The centre now employs 20 staff and is responsible for clearing conflicts across the entire firm, with the exception of the US and Germany.
The move has been met with some relief internally. One Clifford Chance partner says: “We have thousands of clients [on the database], many of whom we’ve not heard of, so [it’s important] to ensure that we don’t conflict ourselves inadvertently.”
But the centre has been plagued with technical glitches. The three constituent firms each had three different databases and the software package which was designed to integrate all three was seriously late. “The IT was a complete nightmare,” says Perrin.
The clearance centre will eventually widen to a general compliance function. It monitors share-dealing by partners and staff across the firm and is also responsible for dispatching terms of business letters – another new initiative.
Perrin says: “We’ve introduced terms of business which we’re sending to new clients we take on from 1 January 2000 – we had to develop terms of business that would operate globally.
“Inevitably [there are] bar rules in different countries which make some clauses sensitive. At some point we’re seeking to agree similar terms of business with existing clients. I suppose at that point the issue will be raised whether they want us to go on acting for them.”