CC woos neighbour Barclays

Clifford Chance

winning the job to advise Barclays on the OFT UK inquiry is not just a simple pitch story. It’s so, so much more significant than that.

First off, it’s a blow for Freshfields. Despite all its best efforts, its strategy of getting a major clearing bank on its client list is still without result. It lost its role as RBS’s corporate adviser to Linklaters, and although it’s made inroads into HSBC, it still hasn’t quite dislodged Norton Rose.

Clifford Chance, meanwhile, has been dogged in its pursuit of Barclays. Along with Allen & Overy, it’s always been the one of the two debt finance firms of choice at Bob Diamond’s expanding BarCap empire. With BarCap now a dominant force within the bank, Clifford Chance’s stock has risen.

Clifford Chance had been without a clearing bank client on the corporate advisory side since Midland was taken over by HSBC a decade ago, and Barclays has been on David Childs’ to-do list for several years.

Childs’ track record as a financial institutions specialist and his rise to power within the firm has helped the relationship along nicely. In the past couple of years, Clifford Chance – and that sparky young turk Guy Norman in Childs’ absence – has got the nod over Lovells for all Barclays’ big deals, from Spain to the Caribbean and South Africa.

It’s textbook stuff. The first thing you learn as a baby corporate partner is that getting to know the finance director is crucial: the FD will give the green light to acquisitions, so it’s vital to be first on the preferred list. Clifford Chance has been canny here. First it cultivated John Varley before he became chief executive and now Naguib Kheraj is feeling the love.

The other factor, of course, is Barclays general counsel Mark Harding, who has maintained cordial relations with his old firm. Other lawyers grumble half-heartedly that Harding would have a natural bias towards Clifford Chance, but that assumption has always struck me as defeatist. Harding never went into Barclays as an ambassador for his alma mater, but there’s no doubt that Clifford Chance was better armed to deal with the new regime than most.

But I rather suspect that there is another factor. It helps, for instance, that your building is right next to your target client and that you can pop over the square for a quiet coffee whenever you want. Moving to Canary Wharf must have been worth it, after all.