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UK firm overhauls practice groups

UK firm overhauls practice groups

CLIFFORD CHANCE is facing an administrative shake up of its London practice groups, with the 19th and 20th floors of its Canary Wharf office of 120-odd lawyers set to merge into one streamlined…

CLIFFORD CHANCE is facing an administrative shake up of its London practice groups, with the 19th and 20th floors of its Canary Wharf office of 120-odd lawyers set to merge into one streamlined group.

The firm has merged so-called corporate groups 30A, 30B and 30C, more widely known as M&A and private equity, into one group.

But what appears to be little more than an administrative reshuffle has caused some ruffled feathers internally. UK legal business magazines have reported “a whiff of nervousness in the air”, with lawyers’ concerns including a loss of positive departmental culture, an adverse effect on recruitment for the more popular merged department and a perceived attack on work-life balance as lawyers imagine they will be pulled into a firefight on new deals from new partners.

While some associates have patiently sat it out, reporting that they will “wait and see” before commenting on the results of the merged unit, others have expressed concern that “there’ll never be a downtime”.

The firm has argued there is overlap between the three groups. Group C was primarily a private equity and investment banking team, weighing in with private equity names such as Permira, CVC Capital Partners, Carlyle Group, Duke Street Capital, Warburg Pincus, Terra Firma and Macquarie, as well as the usual banking suspects, The Lawyer reported.

The A and B groups, comprising general corporate partners and lawyers, advised a cross-section of FTSE100 companies and banks, and handled some private equity work.

The merger between the three groups was announced officially by the new co-heads of the merged corporate practice, partners Adam Signy and Matthew Layton. Signy was formerly in 30C and close to private equity house Candover, while Layton was also in 30C and key to the relationship with Permira, The Lawyer reported.

“Welcome to 30D,” began an email of 11 December 2007. “While on the surface it may seem to many of you to be business as usual, we firmly believe that the new group will enable us all to take full advantage of the many opportunities to develop and enhance our highly successful practice.”

Some reports have stated that creating a sense of internal identity for the newly formed group has been problematic for the firm. Signy and Layton invited suggestions for a more appropriate acronym after they admitted that people “objected, quite rightly” to 30D. Failing more appropriate suggestions, the group was told that 30D would follow the trendsetting banking team that had recently renamed itself from 50X to Finance X, and become Corporate D.

Allocating work to fee-earners has also be touted as a possible stumbling block for the firm. Labelled a challenge in departments with more than 100 “hungry — or overfed — mouths to feed” by The Lawyer, work will have to be divided between the partners that now reside in the one group.

Some Clifford Chance departments use an online “busy-o-gram” form, while others turn to the smiley faces on a whiteboard method of identifying when people are at capacity and when they are hungry for the next job. Others have partners rotate the various offices with a clipboard, polling everyone’s levels of busyness.

The merger is the most recent of a series of organisational overhauls in the firm. In October last year the asset finance (50M) and project finance (50C) teams fused to form Finance A. This name was a replacement for an earlier Finance Y, which was rejected when lawyers started asking “finance, why?”.

As well, earlier last year the securitisation team, the smaller trusts groups and the securities practice merged more than 180 fee-earners under the name capital markets. This naming came despite earlier speculation that the merged groups 50T, 50S, and 50D would be united as 50STD.

It remains to be seen how successful the recent merger will be, both in terms of culture and financially.

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