Clifford Chance hopefuls line up

It’s London vs Paris as Bickerton and Wehrli are early favourites for the top job at CC


There’s over a year to go until David Childs stands down as global managing partner of Clifford Chance, but already the question of who will replace him in May 2014 is a hot topic in the corridors of 10 Upper Bank Street.

The early frontrunner is Paris chief Yves Wehrli, a corporate partner with a high profile in the sporting world. He chose not to stand for the ambassadorial senior partner role in 2010 when Malcolm Sweeting was elected, and is understood to have emailed partners ahead of the vote indicating he was holding out for a future position. And in case the hint wasn’t heavy enough already, he told The Lawyer: “My skills are more suited to management.”

Wehrli’s biggest challenge is winning over London as his appeal at the firm’s HQ is not said to be massively broad. One source mutters that Wehrli has been rather friendly towards City partners recently, but there is a strong sense that corporate head Matthew Layton’s reputation at home would be enough to make him a shoo-in should he choose to apply. Nobody’s really talking about banking head Mark Campbell, while London and Middle East managing partner (and old Etonian) David Bickerton may be on the slate.

The Lawyer does, however, wonder how the more global role would affect Bickerton’s ability to ride to work on a scooter.

Clifford Chance declined to comment on the procedure, but there is a strong sense coming from the heart of the firm that Childs wants to avoid being a lame duck for as long as possible. To this end, soundings are not expected to start until September or October, with a winner likely by the close of 2013. And in a curious and probably related twist, it is understood management has chosen not to put the election on the agenda at the global partnership conference in Monte Carlo in June.

Only after this will eyes turn to the process, under which any equity partner can apply. Partners can nominate up to five candidates and then those with the most endorsements go to a final vote.

At this early stage, it looks like London vs Paris.