CC braces itself for £26m profit slump

Canary Wharf makes huge dent in 2004 forecast as firm hunts for subtenants

Clifford Chance has prepared its partners for a year of stagnation in 2003-04 by indicating that its net profit in London is set to plummet by some £26m because of investment in its new building in Canary Wharf.

For the year 2001-02, The Lawyer 100 reported that Clifford Chance's London revenues stood at £412m, with net profit at £168.9m.

The magic circle firm, which like other City practices is in the process of setting its budget for the coming year, is predicting flat revenues and increased costs for 2003-04, as it struggles to deal with excess space in the new building.

Finance director Chris Merrie told The Lawyer: “London has Canary Wharf and it's unique in that respect. In the rest of the world we don't expect that kind of drop.”

The forecast could leave London, usually considered to be the engine room of the global firm, in the unaccustomed position of seeing its profits lead narrowed within the worldwide network. The US practice, despite integration issues with the East and West Coast businesses, is expected to post respectable increases in revenues.

Some two years ago, the firm made predictions on its space requirements at Canary Wharf. In April 2002, Clifford Chance exercised an option to take an additional 215,000sq ft of space in the 10 Upper Bank Street Building. However, The Lawyer now understands that due to revised growth predictions the firm will be saddled with two empty floors.

It is currently in negotiations with other parties on subletting the space.

Around 1,250 lawyers will be moving to Canary Wharf later this year, which is lower than the figure the firm had estimated two years ago.

Additional costs also include some £4m in liability insurance in London, as well as a large outlay on a new practice management system.