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For a firm that prides itself on being a trendsetter, the eclectic list of candidates in Clifford Chance’s (CC’s) upcoming senior partner election presents some intriguing questions as to the future direction of the firm.

As partners wait with bated breath for manifestos from the five nominees and for the voting process to begin, market observers have begun to pass judgement on the contenders. So who are the most credible candidates?

Of the five in the running, former London managing partner David Bickerton and Paris managing partner Yves Wehrli are perceived by many as the most obvious choices, with most agreeing that they are among the magic circle firm’s most externally recognisable partners.

Bickerton can also lean on his background as a finance lawyer, a speciality shared with incumbent senior partner Malcolm Sweeting and his predecessor Stuart Popham, meaning he could be a good fit for what seems a firmly set mould.

His eight years as London head will have served as something of an audition for the role, with successes during his tenure including his lead role in the firm’s ‘continuous improvement’ efficiency drive, and on his unopposed re-election in 2013 he was described as having “sailed through the process” after “doing a great job in the role”.

Bickerton is perceived as more reserved than other big personalities within the firm, which may make him less of an obvious choice, but as one ex-partner comments: “If you’re a good manager, you’ll upset people. He’ll have his detractors as well as supporters, but he wouldn’t do a bad job.”

Another adds: “David was very good at the detail-oriented stuff as London managing partner – he sorted out issues around the building. However, he may be more focused on the colour of the carpets than where the firm is heading for the next 20 years.”

Longstanding Paris head Wehrli is no stranger to elections at CC, having unsuccessfully run against Matthew Layton for the managing partner role in 2013.

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Hannah Roberts

Hannah joined Legal Week in May 2018 after finishing her degree at Kingston University. Her focus is private equity and she covers a variety of UK and City-based US law firms.

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