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Magic circle member Clifford Chance famously emerged in 1987 out of the legal profession’s first super-merger between Clifford Turner and Coward Chance – a merger which also coincided with the birth of the legal press in the shape of The Lawyer.

Clifford Turner had a corporate bias and Coward Chance was a blue-blood finance firm. The union was not problem-free: there were clashes between people from each firm where the practice areas were similar, and the firm had to operate from separate premises until 1991 when its new building at Aldersgate (the big black edifice known as Gotham City) was ready. Neither Clifford Turner or Coward Chance was a first-rank City player but together they were formidable and the scope of their combined vision was revolutionary.

Geoffrey Howe took over as managing partner soon after the merger and identified international expansion as a major opportunity. Thus, Clifford Chance was at the forefront of the globalisation of law firms and the 1990s saw major European expansion. In 1999 it pulled off hugely ambitious tripartite deal with Pünder Volhard in Germany and Rogers & Wells in the US. The German side of the deal bedded down relatively well but the US side became a saga of epic proportions in the noughties, mostly based around issues with lockstep and superpoints, particularly relating to the star antitrust partners at the top of the equity.

In 2002 Clifford Chance launched on the West Coast launch in audacious fashion by taking 17 partners from Brobeck, a team led by ex-Brobeck chair Tower Snow and one of the biggest team hires in legal history. Brobeck eventually collapsed, but Clifford Chance’s new West Coast team also eventually disintegrated over the next four or five years. Clifford Chance’s US operations are now considerably scaled down in ambition and more focused on litigation.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
The finance department traditionally carried the most political weight within the firm as it represented the majority of the revenue, though since the financial crash it is not quite as influential. For some time there was a finance/corporate balance between the managing and senior partner roles. Corporate partner Tony Williams took over as managing partner in 1997 – a surprise choice, as he was not the favourite. Peter Cornell (finance) got the job after Williams, beating corporate partner and London head Peter Charlton.

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