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In a move to affirm his law firm’s commitment to the U.S. market, Clifford Chance’s global managing partner, Peter Cornell, has announced he will relocate to New York. Cornell, 52, will become the first head of one of London’s Magic Circle of leading corporate law firms to be resident in the United States. His announcement comes as Clifford Chance’s U.S. expansion has been hampered by partner departures on both the East and West coasts. Cornell announced his plans to U.S. partners in a Dec. 24 memo. He wrote that his relocation “will confirm to our partners and staff and to our clients the importance to the firm of our U.S. offices and our determination to further build our U.S. practices.” He said he would be back in touch after Jan. 1 to put forth a proposal on how the firm’s U.S. management could be made more representative. Cornell no longer practices law but works full-time running the firm, which is among the world’s largest with 3,300 lawyers. He became firm-wide managing partner in 2002 after holding a number of other senior administrative positions. He could not be reached for comment Monday. An arrival date has not been set, but Cornell could begin working in New York as early as this month, a firm spokesman said. John Carroll, the firm’s managing partner for the Americas, said he thought Cornell’s presence in New York would have a positive impact on both the firm’s partners and its clients. He stressed that Cornell’s move was not a reaction to the recent string of departures that have plagued the firm over past year. “I’ve talked to Pete about a move like this for some time,” said Carroll. “Those talks long preceded” the departures. A DIFFICULT YEAR The past year has indeed been a tough one for Clifford Chance in the United States though. Dozens of partners in New York and Washington, including several practice leaders, have left the firm over issues such as the British firm’s insistence on lockstep compensation, in which pay is tied to a partner’s seniority rather than business origination. Conflicts of interest and the sheer size of Clifford Chance relative to most U.S. firms are other concerns. Many of those partners were former partners at Rogers & Wells, the New York firm with which Clifford Chance merged in 1999. That merger gave Clifford Chance by far the largest U.S. presence of any of the firms of the Magic Circle, which also includes Linklaters; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Slaughter & May; and Allen & Overy. Clifford Chance last year saw a mass defection of West Coast securities litigation partners to San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. It responded by closing down the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices it had opened just two years earlier after recruiting the same securities litigators from the collapsing Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Kevin Arquit, a former Clifford Chance partner who left to join Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 2002, said a British senior partner coming to New York from London needed to show great sensitivity. Too heavy-handed an approach could lead to “another Boston Tea Party” among U.S. partners, he said. But Arquit said Cornell probably will avoid such friction, making his relocation a savvy move for the firm. He noted that Cornell already spends a great deal of time in New York and has made several friends among the partners there. “He’s probably unusual in his ability to appreciate cultural differences,” said Arquit. “He’s very willing to hear people out. He’s a very good listener.” Carroll said he did not expect Cornell’s arrival to change the U.S. management much. He pointed out that a regional managing partner also carried on under Cornell in London. Carroll also said Cornell’s relocation would not mean the firm would import a large administrative staff from London to support him. He said technology makes it easy for lawyers at Clifford Chance to draw support from people and resources in a wide variety of locations. Cornell considers Madrid, where he lives with his wife and family, his primary residence. He generally stays in London during the week, flying home for the weekends. It is unclear how his U.S. relocation will affect this arrangement.

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