You can only guess at the febrile atmosphere in the offices of Clifford
Chance, that giant among law firms, where the gate has gone up in the race for a
new managing partner. The incumbent, Peter Cornell, has decided not to stand for
re-election after four years in the hot seat.
I can’t say that I’m surprised. I interviewed Cornell last summer and
concluded that he had the management job from hell. His home is in Madrid, but
he spends two to three weeks in New York every month appeasing rainmakers in the
former Rogers & Wells with which Clifford Chance merged five years ago.
Cornell’s itinerary was almost as bad as that of Eric Anstee over at Moorgate
Place who, in his Old Mutual days, flew regularly between London, Cape Town and
New York. There’s only so many airline meals a man can take.
Cornell was perfectly pleasant, but, like so many of our illustrious MPs, he
wouldn’t give a straight answer. When I asked him whether merging simultaneously
with firms in New York and Frankfurt had been a mistake, he replied: ‘We
understood that the integration challenge was a very large one.’ Which I think
You can’t blame Cornell for seeking a quieter life. Imagine the ghastliness
of managing a firm with 3,300 partners and lawyers across 19 countries? He
deserves some respite. As for his successor, my money’s on David Childs, chief
operating officer, who has been pretty well running the place in Cornell’s
I’d love to be a fly on the wall. But they’d charge by the hour.
Jon Ashworth is a freelance journalist and writer
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