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October 14, 2008 3:01 PM

Breaking: Clifford Chance Lays Off 20 Associates

Posted by Zach Lowe

The theory goes that litigation work jumps when the economy sours. That hasn't been true so far at 2,800-lawyer Clifford Chance, which today laid off 20 associates in its U.S. litigation and dispute resolution group. The attorneys, all in the New York and Washington, D.C., offices, will receive some severance package and outplacement services, the firm said. The firm also plans to lay off staff in the business services division after the fourth quarter.

The news was shared in a statement released by the firm this afternoon at roughly 2:30 p.m. The associates, mostly second- through fifth-years, were informed today, Mark Kirsch, global leader of the firm's litigation and dispute resolution group, tells The Am Law Daily.

"The long-anticipated increase in overall U.S. litigation activity has not yet appeared," the firm's statement said. "The firm is taking action now in light of market conditions.

The firm explicitly said the layoffs were not performance-related.

Kirsch says specific areas of litigation--particularly IP--have slowed since the credit crunch hit. The firm's core litigation areas, including securities and white-collar defense, have remained strong, he says. But the boom in litigation across the board hasn't happened, at least not at Clifford Chance.

"The general tsunami hasn't hit yet," Kirsch says.

Firm higher-ups felt they waited as long as they could for that wave to hit before resorting to layoffs, Kirsch says. No first-year associates were let go.

The move comes nearly a year after Clifford Chance laid off six associates in its structured finance group. Those layoffs were the first major cutbacks announced last year, before a stream of lawyer cuts at Thacher, Proffitt & Wood, McKee Nelson, and, most famously, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Clifford Chance ranked number one in The American Lawyer's latest Global 100 ranking, released this month. In 2007 the firm had $2.67 billion in revenues. Its $2.3 million profits per partner ranked fifteenth.

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