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With outposts established in Manhattan and California, London-based Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells, the largest law firm in the world, is now pondering what may turn out to be its next big move in the U.S. legal market — Westchester County, N.Y. Though a final decision is probably at least a year away, the idea of opening a Westchester satellite office has so far been greeted positively within the firm, said James N. Benedict, Clifford Chance’s managing partner for the Americas. A former Clifford Chance partner familiar with the discussions was even more emphatic. “I’d be really, really surprised if they didn’t do it,” he said, adding that the size of the office would likely be in the range of 30 to 40 lawyers. Clifford Chance, a 3,000-lawyer firm with more than 450 lawyers in New York, would be the first firm of its size to relocate a substantial number of lawyers from Manhattan to Westchester, though other firms have acquired suburban outposts through acquisition. “We’re certainly not afraid to be a leader in this,” said Benedict, “if it’s the right thing to do.” Whether a Westchester expansion is the right thing to do will depend in part on whether Clifford Chance stays at its current address at 200 Park Avenue, the MetLife building. Its location right above Grand Central Terminal is as convenient as it gets for lawyers commuting into Manhattan via Metro-North trains from Westchester and Connecticut. The firm also has additional space it is subleasing from Davis, Polk & Wardwell at 450 Lexington Ave. While the firm has a lease on the MetLife space until 2009, a built-in escalation clause will increase the rent in September 2004, said Benedict. Moreover, the firm estimates it needs an additional 100,000 square feet over the 400,000 square feet it has now. As a result, the firm has been looking at space elsewhere. Among spaces the firm has been considering are 340 Madison Avenue, also close to Grand Central, and the World Financial Center, across from the former site of the World Trade Center. OPERATING COSTS Sources familiar with the firm’s search said the New York office is under some pressure from London to lower operating costs by moving downtown, where rents are generally $10 to $15 less per square foot than the $65 or so common in high-end midtown office towers. In London, Clifford Chance is planning to move its headquarters out of the City of London, the city’s historic financial district, to Canary Wharf, a newer development on London’s outskirts where many financial services and media companies have relocated. Along with higher associate salaries, New York real estate costs stand out within Clifford Chance. In particular, the tradition of all lawyers except junior associates having their own private offices is unknown in London, where even senior partners share offices with associates. A move to the World Financial Center would get Clifford Chance the larger space it needs at an enormous savings, but the move would not be popular among partners accustomed to the convenient commute to Grand Central Station. Enter a Westchester office. SUBURBAN ADVANTAGE “Clearly a majority of our partners who don’t live in the city live in Westchester and Connecticut,” acknowledged Benedict. Not only would the office be popular among those partners, Westchester-based clients such as Mastercard International, headquartered in Purchase, N.Y., would also welcome the move, said Benedict. Assignments to Westchester would somewhat reflect such client need, he said. The move would likely prove less popular with young associates keen on being in Manhattan, and the former partner said the associate issue and fear of a recruiting problem has been the main argument against moving ahead with a Westchester office. “You can’t expect associates to make the reverse commute to White Plains,” he said. But Benedict said a Westchester office could be a potential boon to recruiting. With most associates based in Manhattan anyway, an option of working in Westchester could be appealing to associates who, for family or other reasons, would prefer to live in the suburbs. Though Westchester has appeal, said Benedict, many other suburban commercial centers such as Stamford, Conn., have been ruled out. “Everybody would have to take the Connecticut bar exam,” he said. “I’m not going to do that.”

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