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Two European candidates remain as CC’s senior partner contest goes down to three

The likelihood of Clifford Chance’s (CC) next senior partner being based outside London has surged after the first round of voting.

UK-based insurance head Katherine Coates and former capital markets chief David Dunnigan have dropped out of the race to become Malcom Sweeting’s successor  at CC, after none of the five candidates secured more than 50% of votes in the first round.

The three remaining candidates include former London head David Bickerton, ex-Europe chief Yves Wehrli and continental Europe litigation head Jeroen Ouwehand. The second round of votes closes today (12 November) but the election could be extended if none of the candidates get the backing of more than half of the partnership.

Little known outside the firm but well established within its contentious practice, Amsterdam managing partner Ouwehand is now considered the favourite by some after several partners insisted for months a non-London based senior partner would help build the image of the firm as a global outfit.

The election of Ouwehand or Wehrli would also mean a break with recent tradition which has seen the firm’s finance partners handed the role. Both Sweeting and his predecessor Stuart Popham led the London banking practice before taking over as senior partner (previous senior partners Keith Clark and Michael Bray were also banking lawyers).

But with well-liked finance partner Bickerton still in contention, it remains hard to call. The extension of the race to a second round underlines this year’s particularly competitive contest. Sweeting won the election after the first round in 2010 and then stood unopposed when re-elected in 2014. Managing partner Matthew Layton also stood unopposed for his second term, which began in May this year.

The two candidates who dropped out of the race had held global management roles for years, with Dunnigan leading the firm’s capital markets practice for 12 years until 2014. Coates, who heads both the London financial institutions group and the global insurance sector team, would have been the firm’s first female senior partner.