Legal Business Blogs

Clifford Chance re-appoints Layton as managing partner – will the steady hand play as safe in his second term?

Clifford Chance (CC) has reappointed managing partner Matthew Layton for a second term.

Layton’s second term will run from 1 May 2018 for four years, coming after an uncontested election that reflects the substantial popularity he has at the City giant.

The former private equity rainmaker (pictured) has retained his standing despite a role in CC’s C-suite being traditionally one of the hardest leadership roles in the industry. The firm has for years struggled to fully shake-off the legacy of its troubled 1999 acquisition of Rogers & Wells and subsequent launch in California to the extent that it is generally viewed as the weakest of London’s big-four Magic Circle firms.

CC’s revenues have risen just 18% in the last five years to £1.54bn, though the firm put in a relatively stronger performance in 2016/17, supported in part by currency movements to see income rise 11%. CC’s profitability remains about 10% below its big four City rivals.

Layton’s first term focused on improving operational rigour, attempting to improve partner performance and ushering in the latest of a line of shake-ups of CC’s restrictive lockstep pay model. He also targeted substantial growth in the firm’s Asia and US business, while attempting to tackle the familiar bugbear of excessive red tape and groups of partners disappearing into management roles.

The appointment comes as CC’s senior partner role is set to come up for a change next year with incumbent Malcolm Sweeting coming to the end of his second term. Office gossip and Rollonfriday are currently citing clubbable veteran litigator Jeremy Sandelson as a likely contender. Certainly CC could do a lot worse.

While Layton’s approach has drawn criticism for being too conservative at a time when London’s legal elite is facing unprecedented strategic challenges from US rivals and more demanding plc clients, a rock-solid reputation for personal integrity and a focus on team spirit and productivity won him plenty of admirers.

Whether such assets will be enough to carry Layton and CC through his second term without more substantial strategic decisions being taken, however, remains doubtful.