Bingham bridges Continental divide with launch of new Frankfurt office
28 June 2010 | By Matt Byrne
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A German presence will enable Bingham to focus on major financial centres.
Bingham is launching an office in Frankfurt, a move that represents a rare geographical expansion into Continental Europe by the US firm.
In particular, the new German outpost is designed to extend Bingham’s financial restructuring and financial services practice.
The Frankfurt office, which goes live on 1 July, will be headed by partner Jan Bayer, a former partner at independent German firm Broich Bezzenberger.
Bayer specialises in advising on debt and equity special situations, notably in relation to hostile takeovers and financial restructuring.
He is joining Bingham with a team of four lawyers - the other three from Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker’s Frankfurt office - who will be responsible for building Bingham’s German team.
“The current space will allow for up to six partners and 12-15 associates,” says Bayer. “Initially we’ll focus on restructuring, corporate and finance, and will build it out into other areas, including structured finance and tax over time.”
Bayer is well-known to Bingham, having effectively been its German local counsel for the past seven years, although the two firms have never had a formal association. The German-qualified lawyer admitted that the increasing dominance of English and US law in effect made his move inevitable.
“Over the past decade the documentation governing many of the large-scale restructurings in Germany has moved to US or English law,” says Bayer. “Firms such as Kirkland and Weil all have international capabilities. So for restructuring it’s mandatory to have access to top-flight US or English lawyers.”
Bingham’s London head James Roome, who has regularly worked with Bayer over the years, adds: “I hate to say it but this is really where the ’brand’ word comes into play. We’ve won more than our fair share of the major restructuring work in Germany operating with local counsel.
“Our profile on the advisory side is high without having had an office. But we believe that having a single brand name in Germany is becoming more significant. If I could’ve talked Jan into joining two years ago it wouldn’t have been a bad thing.”
Roome says the Frankfurt launch is not only an important development for the financial restructuring practice but also for the firm as a whole.
“It’s a significant development,” Roome confirms. “Outside the US we’ve been focused on servicing clients in the world’s leading financial centres, such as London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and New York. There’s obviously been significant dislocation in Europe and our clients want to know who we’re using in Germany. But this isn’t part of a plan to start moving into many other economies.”
Roome’s comments are echoed by Bingham chairman Jay Zimmerman, who describes the German launch as “a natural next step” for the firm.
“It follows our strategy of focusing on the major financial centres,” agrees Zimmerman. “Obviously Frankfurt fits with that. In the restructuring world in Germany a lot of the work is handled in London, so there’s already a natural workflow between the two cities.
“But Germany’s obviously one of the largest economies in the world and there’s a sense that being on the ground is important. It’ll allow us to capture the full product in-house.”
Bayer’s former firm, Broich Bezzenberger, was a spin-off from Skadden’s Frankfurt office in 2003. The original three-lawyer firm has since grown into a 30-lawyer corporate boutique, with offices in Frankfurt, Berlin and Vienna.
Bayer’s recent restructuring experience includes advising the bondholders of Fleetstreet in the largest German CMBS restructuring to date, the noteholders of Phoenix Pharmahandel and Deutz, as well as creditors on various single-credit restructurings, including Bavaria Yachtbau, Level One and Ihr Platz.
Bayer also recently advised institutional investors in equity special situations involving VW/Porsche, Schaeffler/Conti, Unicredito/HVB, Adecco/DIS and P&G/Wella.