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Financials 2020/21: ‘Strongest-ever quarter’ rescues revenue growth at Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance had a late flurry of transactional activity to thank for a respectable set of Covid financials, as profit per equity partner climbed 9% and revenue inched up by 1%.

The firm’s PEP reached £1.85m, up on last year’s £1.69m, while revenue hit £1.828bn from £1.803bn. There was also an 8% uptick in partnership profit, growing to £716m from £666m.

Managing partner Matthew Layton (pictured) attributed the growth to the firm’s ‘strongest-ever quarter’ at the tail end of the financial year. He told Legal Business: ‘We saw the transactional side come back very strongly at the end of the year. In terms of signs going forward, our deal pipeline for the first few months of next year is looking very good. Demand levels are very high, it’s more than just nine months of work squeezed into three months.’

Despite the promising buying activity, the firm’s contentious practices were less fruitful this year, which is somewhat unexpected given the often-countercyclical nature of disputes. Layton said: ‘It’s more just a timing issue. The pipeline looks strong at the moment. Investigations require people to travel, it’s a lot harder to do that remotely. In 2008 there was hiatus in disputes as people dealt with their immediate priorities and then litigation came out in the following  12 to 18 months. There will be pandemic-related disputes.’

While the firm’s UK revenue was up by a robust 9%, overall there were mixed results at an international level. Continental Europe was up 2% in local currency terms, but the Americas region suffered a 2% drop, while Asia Pacific and the Middle East were down 5% and 6% respectively. A standout from the firm’s previous set of  results was a 13% uptick in US revenues, which makes this this year’s reverse all the more notable.

Layton reflected: ‘To some extent this was also a timing issue. We had a very robust performance in London with its strong financial sector, and this was the same in Continental Europe. America came off a very strong year last time, and there were a couple of areas impacted by the pandemic. There were restrictions on transport into the Latin America region and difficulty accessing government infrastructure, as well as a significant hit to the aviation sector.’

In terms of client work, a highlight was its role advising Pfizer on its agreement to co-develop a Covid vaccine with BioNTech. The firm also advised on a series of heavyweight tech IPOs, including the Hut Group’s £1.88bn float, the largest in London since 2015 at the time of listing.