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The recent sale of Whitbread’s beer company business to Interbrew for £400m seems to have hammered the final nail in Clifford Chance’s coffin as preferred corporate adviser to the pub giant, which instructed Slaughter and May on the deal instead. The breakdown in the relationship began last July after Clifford Chance was associated with Whitbread’s decision to publicise details about an informal interview with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), saying the regulator would clear its proposed offer for Allied Domecq’s pubs business. A riled OFT retorted with its own statement saying that Whitbread’s bid had yet to be cleared by the OFT. Clifford Chance’s corporate partner Neil Harvey led the legal team, which included competition expert James Wheaton. Whitbread absolved Clifford Chance of any blame, but the company has not instructed the firm on any major corporate deals since. Some City lawyers believe Clifford Chance has become a scapegoat for Whitbread’s ultimate failure to secure Allied Domecq. Last December, Whitbread instructed Allen & Overy (A&O) ahead of Clifford Chance on its £587m acquisition of Swallow Group. The deal was A&O’s first Whitbread instruction, although Legal Week understands that the work would have gone to Slaughter and May, but for the fact that it was already advising Swallow.However, Slaughter and May has clearly emerged as Whitbread’s new main corporate adviser.

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