Clifford Chance – almost as big in New York as Cravath Swaine & Moore, even if its RPL lags behind – is best known for corporate and banking.
It may not rival Slaughter and May when it comes to FTSE100 clients, but on the private equity side the firm is particularly strong. Names such as Matthew Layton, James Baird and Adam Signy are regularly associated with the sector’s major European deals.
In banking, whether it is Islamic finance or acting for lenders around the globe, Clifford Chance is there. Partners Mark Campbell, Alan Inglis, Malcolm Sweeting et al have got the sector pretty much covered. In transatlantic terms, litigation and regulatory are two of the firm’s strongest points.
Having become a global giant, Clifford Chance risks being seen as institutionalised. In the past the Clifford Chance brand was synonymous with a ballsy law firm: now the firm has lost some of that nimbleness.
Its flagship private equity practice, while strong in the UK, needs beefing up in the US. Notably, longstanding client Permira favours Simpson Thacher & Bartlett over Clifford Chance for US advice.
Also, having focused its attentions on the mega-deal end of the private equity market, Clifford Chance’s deal flow has inevitably contracted in light of the credit crunch. The US finance practice – while the focus of some investment – does not match its UK strength.
Even the very best law firm would struggle on a global basis if it did not have a strong brand. Clifford Chance’s main strength is that it has, sometimes painfully, built one of the best-known international brands in the market.
It has underlined its commitment to New York by promoting a record four new partners there in 2008.
So growth in the US is a major focus, but Clifford Chance remains dedicated to its entire global network, evidenced this year with office launches in Abu Dhabi and Ukraine.
On the negative side, a strategy from managing partner David Childs to move lawyers around the network seems to have borne little fruit. It appears that few are keen to make the move.
Clifford Chance has had its share of troubles over the years, from its unhappy merger with Rogers & Wells and disastrous West Coast adventures in the US.
All this seems to be in the past now. If Clifford Chance can recapture its go getting ethos and put its faith in its strongest partner leaders, it could consolidate its first transatlantic mover advantage.