Clifford Chance to vote on slashing management committee from 16 to nine

Clifford Chance is to vote next month on slashing its management committee from 16 to nine in Matthew Layton’s first key move as leader.

Matthew Layton
Matthew Layton

The firm’s new managing partner is understood to have stood for the role on a platform of streamlining management and creating a stronger executive team (28 November 2013).

He has now made the first step towards fulfilling his manifesto pledges by tabling the vote to cut seven roles from the committee, though it is not known which roles would go if the move is passed. The vote is expected to open next month with partners currently discussing the proposals.

A Clifford Chance spokesperson said: “We are consulting on some changes to the firm’s governance, with a view to ensuring that the way we manage our firm is designed to help meet the evolving needs of our clients, and to reflect the reality of the changing markets.”

The proposal appears to have gone down well within Clifford Chance, with partners understood to be positive towards slimming down the layers on management.

“I think Matthew was elected to do a job and it’s part of what was expected from him,” said one source.

Another said: “The aim is to make the process more executive, less socialism, less ‘everybody gets to vote on the colours of the pencils we use’.”

Layton launched his campaign for managing partner at the end of last year on the principle of overhauling the magic circle firm’s management structure. Since taking over the role from David Childs on 1 May, pushing through the new-look team has been on the top of his agenda.

Practice groups are expected to be merged into fewer seats if the plan goes through and it is thought that regional heads would take up the majority of the spots available.

The weighty management structure is currently made up of the management committee, chaired by Layton, and the six-strong partnership council.

“There is a widely perceived issue that if representatives on the committee only represent their constituency it’s very difficult to get anything through,” said a source.

“It’s not surprising that lots of organisations have pressure to reduce the size of committees, it takes up peoples’ time,” said another.

The vote could spell a short spell on the committee for new members like freshly anointed corporate head Guy Norman and tax, pensions and employment head Chris Davies, who took up the seat this year. Regional managing partner for the Americas Evan Cohen and continental Europe representative Charles Adam have been in their positions for a year.

Clifford Chance’s LLP accounts show that the 16 members of the management committee received an average of £1.13m each in the 2012/13 financial year (2 January 2014), slightly down on £1.19m the previous year (4 October 2012).

The vote is the first in two key changes mooted by Layton in his leadership campaign against real estate finance partner Andrew Carnegie and Paris chief Yves Wehrli.

Layton also canvassed partners on the idea of scrapping salaried partner bands and bringing all partners into the equity, though no timeline has been set on voting for these proposals.

His management style appears to be held in high esteem among peers, with one person even liking the lawyer to US president Barack Obama, as “an approachable face in management”.