Clydes aims for stateside expansion

Clyde & Co is looking to mirror the rapid expansion it is currently enjoying in the Middle East with growth in the US.

Clydes aims for stateside expansion‘No conflicts’ strategy is key to US growth

Clyde & Co is looking to mirror the rapid expansion it is currently enjoying in the Middle East with growth in the US.

The UK-headquartered firm planted its flag in the US on 26 June 2006, when it opened its New York office after a raid on US firm Condon & Forsyth for a four-partner team of aviation litigators. The group, which was led by Diane Westwood Wilson in New York, also yielded one ­partner in Los Angeles, Kevin Sutherland, together with a handful of associates.

In the intervening two years Clydes has steadily beefed up its stateside operation. It has tripled the size of its New York office, with recent hires including that of ­insurance partner Mike Knoerzer from pre-merger LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae on 1 October 2007.

Now the firm is targeting ­significantly more growth in the US and in particular in its insurance and reinsurance practice. To that end it has just brought in a partner to launch a much-needed insurance regulatory team.

Susan Stryker, formerly with the Trenton, New Jersey firm Sterns & Weinroth, joined the firm two weeks ago. Her practice covers a broad range of corporate, administrative and litigation matters in relation to insurance. It also includes regulatory and compliance counselling, as well as administrative hearings, complex litigation and appeals in both state and federal courts.

“The US at both the state and ­federal level has created a great many new regulations and clients want to know what the impact of these will be upon them,” says Stryker. ­

“Compliance issues, market conduct issues and orders of various kinds are legitimate and growing concerns.”

Stryker’s arrival is also indicative of the growing maturity of Clydes’ US insurance practice. The arrival of Knoerzer in particular highlights the ‘no conflicts’ strategy it is ­pursuing and which it believes sets it apart from many of its larger ­competitors stateside.

“LeBoeuf represents pretty much everyone in the insurance industry,” says Knoerzer when quizzed about his decision to leave the firm just prior to its merger with Dewey ­Ballantine last year. “If you’re a ­litigator and you want to be adverse to insurance companies, then Leboeuf is a pretty tough place to practise.”

According to Knoerzer, conflicts are not only the bane of law firms, but also of clients.

“Many clients are looking for a firm that doesn’t have the same ­conflicts problem as a firm like LeBoeuf,” he continues. “Here [at Clydes] there’s a much more benign conflicts situation. The firm doesn’t have a massive US domestic ­practice, therefore Clyde & Co ­doesn’t present as many conflicts.”

Another plus for Clydes, says Knoerzer, is that, because the firm’s US operation has started from scratch, it can be particular about which matters it takes on to protect that conflicts position.

“I also believe there’s a trend towards litigation boutiques in insurance ;and ;reinsurance,” ­Knoerzer adds. “This is partly ­driven by the conflicts situation, partly by rates and partly that the problem with the big firms is that they’re often not paying full attention to ­litigation because corporate work drives those firms.”

For Clydes, avoiding conflicts looks like being a theme of its future US growth. Knoerzer says continued rapid ;growth ;is ;certainly ;a ­possibility, but that any new practice areas will need to meet three tests.

“First that they do not create ­conflicts,” he states. “Second that they be of the right rate structure – we’re not a volume shop. And third that they leverage off the firm’s ­international office network. That’s a tremendous advantage over our competitors.”

A ;distinct ;possibility ;for ­imminent growth is international arbitration, an area Knoerzer says Clydes is “keenly attuned to”.

In the meantime, Clydes US already has plenty to digest.

Thacher proffitt to rent out a floor of ny ‘mothership’

Thacher Proffitt & Wood has put one of the five floors in its downtown Manhattan offices on the market in an attempt to offset the ongoing effects of the credit crisis, and in ­particular the departure of around 100 lawyers in under
a year.

The firm put the space at its 2 World Financial Center (WFC) headquarters on the market last month, The Lawyer can exclusively reveal.

Thacher Proffitt managing partner Paul Tvetenstrand confirms that the firm had hired real estate agents within the past month to begin the search for a tenant that could take the floor and provide some additional revenue.

“We have more real estate than we need,” Tvetenstrand says. “The headcount in New York – the mothership – is down significantly. We have five floors and four will be more than enough. We’re probably looking to sublet it for a few years until our staffing levels bounce back.”

Thacher Proffitt was among the first US firms to admit it was being forced to make cuts as a result of the downturn in its core area of structured finance. In that late 2007 round, 24 associates were laid off. In two subsequent rounds the firm laid off around 30 more lawyers.

In addition, The Lawyer reported last month (12 June) that 10 partners and more than 20 associates had left Thacher Proffitt voluntarily in recent months. The firm also sold its Mexico City office to Chadbourne & Parke earlier this year.

“At our height we also had a third of a floor in 3 World Financial Center,” adds Tvetenstrand. “We’ve already sublet that.”

This space housed Thacher Profitt’s administrative staff – a team that has subsequently been moved back into the firm’s main office. It retains options for space in other offices within the WFC complex, into which it could roll back its support staff as and when required.

For now the firm is looking to hire, particularly in corporate and litigation. But with a number of empty rooms clearly visible and one of its floors about to be sublet, the least of Tvetenstrand’s worries is that he may find himself short of desks if and when headcount rebounds.

“If being overcrowded is my worst problem,” he says, “I’ll take it in a heartbeat.”