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NEW YORK — As senior partners at London-based Clifford Chance debate whether star American lawyers should be able to earn far more than their British counterparts, the firm’s highest-paid U.S. partner has defected with three other partners to a New York-based rival. Weil, Gotshal & Manges announced Thursday that Steven Newborn, the Washington, D.C.-based global head of the antitrust practice at Clifford Chance, would become co-head of Weil, Gotshal’s global competition practice effective Oct. 25. He will be joined by Clifford Chance partners James Egan, John Scribner and Laura Wilkinson, all of whom will work in Weil, Gotshal’s Washington, D.C., office. The planned departure of Newborn, 57, follows by several months that of Kevin Arquit, who left Clifford Chance’s New York office to join Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in December 2002. Together, Newborn and Arquit had led one of Clifford Chance’s most lucrative and highly regarded practices. John Carroll, the head of Clifford Chance’s American practices, said the firm would miss Newborn, but he noted the firm retained seven experienced antitrust partners and more than 40 associates in the United States. The firm, the world’s largest with more than 3,000 lawyers, has more than 100 antitrust lawyers worldwide. “Steve is a marquee name and now that marquee name is gone,” said Carroll, “but I believe our ability to handle complex matters is unchanged.” Newborn said Thursday he had been happy at Clifford Chance, but said conflicts arising from the firm’s scale and global presence had proved frustrating. “I’ve been conflicted out of so many matters I could start another law firm just to handle those matters,” Newborn said. Weil, Gotshal is big enough at 1,100 lawyers to handle large transactions, he said, but small enough that conflicts should not prove overbearing. “I’ll be conflicted out one out of three times instead of three out of three,” he said. Compensation was not a major factor in his decision to leave Clifford Chance, said Newborn. However, his departure comes at a time when the British firm is conducting a review aimed at determining whether it should bend its traditional lockstep compensation scheme, in which partners are paid strictly according to seniority, to attract top American lawyers. Though a handful of elite New York firms, including Simpson Thacher, continue to pay partners in lockstep, most U.S. firms pay partners according to business origination. With Arquit’s departure, Newborn was the only lawyer at Clifford Chance to earn more than the highest tier of the firm’s lockstep system. The two both earned in the neighborhood of $3 million while partners at Clifford Chance. Even with both men gone, however, the resolution of the lockstep issue will shape the firm’s position in the competitive market for lateral partners. The firm has already embarked on a search for another high-level antitrust partner, said Carroll, who added that he had no doubt Newborn’s departure would animate discussions on the firm’s compensation system. But he said he did not expect people’s positions to change. “Those who are lockstep purists will say, ‘See, this proves my point,’” said Carroll. “Those who oppose a strict lockstep will say, ‘See, this proves my point.’” Arquit, who said compensation was not a large factor in his decision to leave Clifford Chance, added that global firms would always be challenged to be all things to all people. “I think one of the issues a global firm has to face is that a shoe that fits in one jurisdiction may not fit in another,” he said. “If there are four firms who want to hire someone, the one that can’t pay as much as the other three will be disadvantaged.” Newborn said discussions on the lockstep issue were “irrelevant” to his decision. He said he was fairly compensated at both firms. He said further that he wound up taking less than Weil, Gotshal initially offered, though he declined to say why. Helene Jaffe, who will co-head Weil Gotshal’s global competition practice with Newborn, said his addition will boost an already strong practice for the firm, particularly in its Washington, D.C., office. “This is a very well-respected group, and deservedly so,” she said. Anthony Lin is a reporter for The New York Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate.

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