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Layton leads the field as CC set for managing partner election

The race to fill the shoes of Clifford Chance (CC)’s longstanding global managing partner David Childs has reached a decisive stage, with the initially reluctant Matthew Layton widely cited as the favourite as the firm takes soundings on potential candidates.

Layton is widely tipped to be running alongside three other likely candidates: Paris-based office managing partner and M&A corporate specialist Yves Wehrli; global head of tax, pensions and employment David Harkness; and City-based banking and finance partner Andrew Carnegie.

With the sounding process for nominations open, sources, including a number of ex-partners, say Layton, the firm’s global head of corporate, is the most obvious candidate for the role and one commented: ‘It’s a slam dunk – it’s going to be Matthew Layton. Everyone said if Matthew stands, he would be elected. He’s perceived to have done a very good job, in very difficult circumstances. People put aside their views on any particular practice area.’

Partners can put themselves forward to be nominated, after which the three with the greatest number of nominations will be put to a majority vote.

The successor will take over on 1 May 2014 from Childs, who himself took over as managing partner on 1 May 2006 and has been widely credited with taking a more pro-active stance than his predecessor Peter Cornell, particularly in taking tough decisions to co-ordinate and manage its international offering.

Childs led CC through a turbulent period in which its core financial services client base was ravaged in the wake of the banking crisis, contributing to a 4% fall in revenues over the last five years.

The election process has created a period of unrest for the partnership, as insiders say there has not been an obvious successor to the well-regarded Childs.

An ex-partner said: ‘He hasn’t got anybody who is going to be an obvious leader. Childs was in a way groomed by Peter Cornell and at the time was a chief operating officer. But there’s nobody who I can think who is preparing now for that role. It won’t be a litigator – there’s no way Clifford Chance would ever have a litigator running the firm.’

Based on this view CC’s high-profile global head of litigation and dispute resolution Jeremy Sandelson – another name put forward as a possible candidate – could be out of the running.

Other early contenders now viewed as unlikely to run include global head of finance Mark Campbell, and managing partner for the London and Middle East region David Bickerton, who is said to have felt he has sufficient responsibility in his current role.

The sounding process will wind up during October, after which partners will vote on the shortlist.