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Clifford Chance’s global MP Matthew Layton talks expansion and ambition for his first four-year term

The past week has seen Clifford Chance emerge as the star performer among its Magic Circle rivals, with a 7% rise in revenues to £1.36bn. Legal Business asked newly-appointed global managing partner Matthew Layton about the 2,945-lawyer firm’s plans for international expansion and his ambitions over his first four-year term.

What are your expansion plans?

For virtually every business regulatory and risk is now a global issue. The financial regulatory environment may have attracted the lion’s share of the headlines – but risk and reputation are right at the top of the agenda for all our clients. Proactive management of risk is a priority. This is an area of increasing activity for us. In Asia Pac we are building key relationships with the major players in those markets and our commitment to long term investment means we have the reputational capital established from over 30 years in the region. We are also committed to building our business in the US and I would like to see our income from the US representing a greater proportion of the firm’s total revenues.

The firm has seen a number of recent partner departures, particularly corporate lawyers to US firms. What will the firm do to combat that?

We are and need to remain an attractive destination for the very best lawyers. One element is, of course, the need to be competitive in terms of compensation. That’s part of my vision and strategy. But culture and the high quality of the opportunities and career progression, clients and the work are also important to people who want to be part of a successful and ambitious team. There are great opportunities and career prospects for young lawyers here. There’s no aspect of complacency about that here.

What key strengths are needed to manage the firm?

It’s important to maintain and develop an inclusive, collegiate culture throughout the firm. There’s lots written about law firm management but it’s about how you inspire people to work together to deliver that great service to our clients – time and time again. That’s a key part of my role and I’m looking forward to working with and supporting the entire team – both the young and the more experienced alike – during my time as managing partner.

You were singled out by CC partners as a very popular candidate when you ran for election last year. How much was it to do with that and how much of your success was down to the specifics of your election manifesto?

All the candidates were strong and there was huge alignment and agreement in what Andrew [Carnegie], Yves [Wehrli] and I proposed, to be honest. The elections weren’t a hostile event – the hustings were a lot of fun and provided a great opportunity for an open discussion across the partnership. But in the end, I am honoured to be trusted with the role and I’m fortunate to have had such opportunities throughout my time at the firm and to share in its successes over the last three decades.

There’s been speculation that you want to move to an all equity partnership…

I didn’t actually say we should move to an all equity partnership. I said we should always consider the options. I can see some advantages to it – equally there are some benefits in having non-equity partners. I would always encourage us to review and debate this and other relevant topics. As you will know, I have made proposals to the partnership to consult and look at the current structure. We need to be in the right shape for our clients as the market changes; we must be flexible and adaptable to change.

What do you want to achieve during your term?

Technological development should be right at the forefront of the business of law firms too, and building a sustainable geographically balanced firm for the future. The key benchmarks are growth in the Americas; further growth in Asia; and becoming the law firm of choice for the leading global and regional businesses and the destination of choice for the most talented lawyers.

I don’t set an agenda to make Clifford Chance the most profitable firm but to make long term investments for a sustainable future. And being agile and flexible, and having that willingness to experiment – that culture needs to be enshrined across the partnership.