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Nearly two years after fleeing Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison to open California offices for Clifford Chance, some of the partners may be contemplating another move.

Michael Torpey, the partner who heads up the securities litigation group, on Tuesday denied reports that he and his group were shopping for a new home. But he acknowledged the group isn’t entirely happy at Clifford Chance.

“We have some issues we’re talking to the firm about,” Torpey said. “We hope to get them resolved and that everything works out.”

Asked what the group would do if the disagreements are not worked out, Torpey replied: “I’m very optimistic that they’ll get resolved.”

Torpey declined to identify the sticking point, except to say it wasn’t about the firm’s lock-step compensation system.

That’s been a sore point at the firm and a factor behind a string of high-profile departures in Clifford Chance’s New York office. It’s also been an issue for the California office, which has failed to recruit a single lateral partner in nearly two years.

Rumors started to circulate this week that the securities litigation group — which comprises the bulk of the firm’s California lawyers — was looking to leave.

On Monday, James Burns Jr., managing partner of the West Coast offices, said there was “no foundation or truth” to talk that the securities group was on the market.

Burns, who also practices in the securities litigation group, wasn’t available Tuesday.

Another member of the group, Tower Snow Jr., the former chairman of Brobeck, is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. But firm spokesman Tom Orewyler said Snow was “absolutely not” leaving the firm.

London’s Clifford Chance made a splashy entrance into California in June 2002 when it hired securities litigation rainmaker and ex-Brobeck Chairman Snow, who in turn brought along 16 Brobeck partners and 30 associates. The firm then opened offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and San Diego.

At the time, Snow predicted that the firm would have 100 lawyers in the state by the end of 2002. The California offices currently have 70 lawyers.

Law firm recruiters and consultants say potential laterals have been put off, in part, by Clifford Chance’s laborious hiring process, which requires a series of approvals from partners in London and New York, and because of a lock-step compensation system that links pay to seniority.

Senior partners at competing firms say Clifford Chance’s failure to bring in a lateral to build a corporate practice is a big problem.

“They’ve got to be looking across the table from each other and saying this didn’t work,” one senior partner said. “They’ve been utterly unsuccessful at growing the practice.”

But Torpey, for his part, said the firm’s lock-step compensation system doesn’t bother him.

“I like it personally,” Torpey said, adding that it fosters collegiality. “For me it’s a pay cut. The top is less than I’d make at a lot of firms.”

Torpey also said the group has been busy, representing Cisco Systems Inc. in litigation and working with the New York office as counsel to Merrill Lynch in several matters, including those relating to Enron Corp. and Global Crossing Ltd.

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