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Peter Charlton, London managing partner at Clifford Chance, talks to Alexis Roitman about the future London managing partner is a newly-created position for a firm which, since its millennial merger with Rogers & Wells and P�nder Volhard Weber & Axster has upped the stakes for legal juggernauts on both sides of the Atlantic. “London is still the biggest office … so in some way London has a leading role in the way the merger will work and in the integration of the key markets,” says Charlton. So why was he chosen? “I’ve never been slow to come forward with my views.” Good-humoured with a slight Northern accent that has a habit of curling up at the ends of sentences, he comes across as very centered and very direct. After briefly considering a history degree at Cambridge, he decided to opt for something more practical and read law in London. His reasons for pursuing a career in corporate finance also explain why he hasn’t done a tour of duty at one of Clifford Chance’s far flung offices. “London is my natural market,” he says. Within a few years of qualification in 1981, Charlton was the lead assistant on deals like the Jaguar float. A partner since 1986, he still spends roughly half his time on fee-earning work. Other managing partners will tell you that they think it’s important to keep their hand in with clients. Not Charlton. It’s just what he does. He likes the complexity, the personalities and the fact that each deal is different. Clients and colleagues agree that he’s very commercial and knows how to get the deal done. Yet he has always had an eye on management, being voted to the Clifford Chance Board as the young partners’ representative. “I spouted forth about the young partners’ views on life and how I thought all the old farts were getting along,” he jokes. Becoming managing partner of the corporate finance group in 1993 stood him in good stead for the juggling of responsibilities he now faces. He says he understands the strategy and processes behind getting from A to B, although it doesn’t give him the buzz that fee-earning work does. Charlton is one of four partners in the firm worldwide overseeing various regions. Dubai also falls within his remit, and he travels there about twice a year. INTEGRATION PROCESS “I’m reasonably forthright … I don’t prevaricate much. I come to a conclusion quite quickly — because there’s never a black and white answer to anything,” he says. He explains the integration process that is occurring within the firm, that an infrastructure is in place so that each constituency is represented at the global level. Practice groups are now run as one business whereas previously it was very regional. “Sometimes you’ve got to be fairly sensitive and that’s not one of my strong points,” he concedes, but adds almost as quickly: “The thing I don’t find difficult is making decisions. To me there’s quite a big gulf between being a good lawyer and a good manager and the trick is to recognize the differences … lawyers can’t afford to be wrong and that’s why managing lawyers is slightly on the difficult side.” Was the departure of Tony Williams, managing partner of the firm until earlier this year, a disruption? Charlton gets quite serious for a moment. “Michael Bray was the architect of the merger and he is now the chief executive of the firm.” But he remains upbeat. He says the partnership has invested in the future before and is now seeing the payoff from hard-fought European expansion in the early 90s. He is confident that the partnership is similarly in one mind about seeing the recent merger develop. He talks about the long road to partnership at such a large firm, saying: “We’ve got to recognize that there is now a wider variety of opportunities for lawyers in banks, dot-coms and in-house”. The first to admit the importance of his family and its stability on his working life, there was a time in his life when it was “work and family and little else”, but now Charlton finds time to play a bit more golf and head off on beach holidays with his wife and children. And what lies ahead for him? “The real challenge in an international business is to maintain the consistency and standard of quality — and manage the external perception, which is almost counter-cultural to lawyers”.

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