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Clifford Chance partners met twice over the weekend to strategize damage control following an associate memo that complained of dismal working conditions at the firm’s New York office. The memo — written by a committee of associates at the London-based firm’s Big Apple outpost — cited the firm’s 2,420 billable-hour requirement, abusive comments by partners and other factors in creating bleak working conditions at the firm. On Monday, partners tried to react publicly, both to the memo and to the potentially damaging publicity it has created. Of immediate concern were comments in the associate memo that the firm’s billable-hour requirements were forcing lawyers to pad their bills — an assertion almost sure to anger clients. “Associates found the stress on billable hours dehumanizing, and verging on an abdication of our professional responsibilities insofar as the requirement ignores pro bono work and encourages ‘padding’ of hours,” the memo stated. A Sunday story in the London-based Financial Times quoted a source at the firm saying “we have got a lot of reassuring to do during the next few days. We have had a number of clients already contact us.” But a spokeswoman for the firm denied Monday that clients have been peppering the firm with complaints about billing in the wake of the memo. “The reaction we’ve gotten from clients has been universally supportive,” said Jolie Goldstein, Clifford Chance’s director of business development for the Americas region. She said she was aware of about a dozen calls from clients that addressed the associate memo — though she did not characterize the nature of those discussions. Goldstein also downplayed the significance of the firm’s weekend meetings. Partners meeting in the United Kingdom office were joined via conference call by a couple of partners, public relations and business development people from the New York office. “There was nothing striking or unusual about these meetings,” Goldstein said. “It’s what you’d expect a business to do in response to press coverage.” She said there has been no campaign to contact clients because the firm regards the mention of bill padding as a misinterpretation of the memo. Clifford Chance management asked associates on the personnel committee to collect input from associates and put together a memo. Management made the request in response to the firm’s last-place ranking in Recorder and law.com affiliate The American Lawyer magazine’s survey on associate job satisfaction. Since receiving the associate memo, Goldstein said the firm has been reconsidering the amount of billable hours expected of associates in its U.S. offices. “Everything is on the table,” she said. “We’re looking at the full extent of our associate development program, including compensation and performance measures.” She said the firm is also holding focus groups and working with consultants and has put together a task force charged with looking at associate issues and making recommendations. David Taub, a partner in the New York office, is heading the task force.

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