Review of the year 2003: Clifford Chance ructions

Clifford Chance ructions” />Where would a review of the year be without Clifford Chance? Ructions in the firm’s central management, set against a backdrop of drama across the Atlantic, kept the market transfixed throughout the year.

In October, The Lawyer broke the news that Clifford Chance managing partner Peter Cornell had unilaterally appointed David Childs as the firm’s chief operating officer. Childs was to combine the new role with his existing one as global head of corporate. On 20 October, editor Catrin Griffiths and associate editor Dearbail Jordan explored the internal politics of a firm that more often than not resembled the Tory Party – “the plots, the turf wars, the leadership rumours, the media obsession…”.

The same day it emerged that partners from the legacy UK firm had revolted against a proposed new compensation scheme, rejecting proposals to revamp the lockstep. Only 70 per cent of partners voted in favour of the new system, a heartbreaking 5 per cent short of the majority needed for implementation. The result was
a crushing blow for the firm’s management, and in particular for the compensation review group.

The rejection of the scheme could prove fatal to the firm’s hopes of attracting and retaining US rainmakers.
Already, the US has lost key names, including antitrust star Kevin Arquit, who left for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Steve Newborn, who moved to Weil Gotshal & Manges in October.

The revelations came during a time of withering profits at the firm. In November, The Lawyer revealed that Clifford Chance had delayed partner profit distribution for the second time this financial year. It was not the only magic circle firm to take the step: in September, The Lawyer reported that Linklaters was delaying partner drawings following the installation of the firm’s new IT system.

However, shortly afterwards Clifford Chance at last paid out a chunk of its delayed partner profit distributions, as it emerged that finance director Christopher Merry was leaving the firm.