Apple goes rotten for CC as NY litigation team falls apart

It is mass exodus time at Clifford Chance New York. Eight months ago, and a year after the UK-headquartered firm laid off a handful of structured finance associates, it embarked on its first major round of layoffs in the US. When it was over, 20 litigation associates had gone.

Things have since gone from bad to worse for the magic circle firm in the US.

While the global partnership is restructured and reshaped, the firm’s litigation team in the US has been on an ever-diminishing path.

Last month TheLawyer. com (29 May) reported that global litigation head and New York-based partner Mark Kirsch had left the firm. Kirsch resurfaced last week at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher’s New York office (, 10 June). He did not leave alone.

The firm’s former six-partner New York litigation team has now been reduced to three, with partners Joel Cohen and Christopher Joralemon joining Kirsch at Gibson Dunn.

Clifford Chance has been at pains to emphasise that Kirsch’s departure and the slimming down are not major concerns. The firm’s line is that it is “reshaping” its US litigation practice to become more focused on cross-border matters, with specialities in arbitration, investigations and white-collar crime, along with commercial litigation and antitrust.

So Clifford Chance in the US is reinventing itself as a specialist litigation shop. That approach might be plausible if its recent departures were more the result of the global cull. The story doing the rounds of the New York market is that it simply no longer has the dispute resolution resources on board to sustain a full-­service litigation practice.

“There comes a point when you have to look at the practice and decide whether it’s worth sticking around,” says one former Clifford Chance partner. “So many people have left now and the practice has dwindled, so it’s not worth staying.”

Powerful words. How will Clifford Chance ­recover in US litigation? One school of thought is that the firm should cut its losses and shut its US litigation practice altogether, although that looks a little apocalyptic.

Still, as one former Washington DC Clifford Chance partner puts it: “There’s still a good-sized transactional practice – the firm would be well advised to focus only on that.”