Brobeck Hale and Dorr announces closure of Prague operation

BROBECK Hale and Dorr International, the offspring practice of two US firms, will close its Prague office at the end of the year and relocate its resident partner to London.

The office, which opened four years ago, is an international joint venture between California's Brobeck Phleger & Harrison and Massachusetts firm Hale and Dorr. Based in New York, the international arm also operates a London practice.

Prague resident partner David Ayres, who moved to the Czech Republic in March last year from the UK office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, said he would join Brobeck in London in January.

Ayres, who previously spent 10 years working in Hale's Boston office, said US-qualified lawyers Paul Sestak and Lynne Houle had not yet announced their plans, although it was expected Sestak would return to the US. Czech lawyer Jana Hronova was thought to be remaining in Prague.

“Our London practice, which is the bulk of the firm, concentrates very heavily on financing and related work for companies in the biotechnology and computer industries,” said Ayres.

“Both of our parent firms are also heavily concentrated in that area and we want to concentrate our international efforts in that field.

“This market doesn't have a very large amount of that kind of work. It just doesn't fit in from a strategic standpoint.”

Ayres said while he was disappointed at the office closure, “it makes sense” because a number of the practice's clients were now based outside of the Czech Republic.

He said the Czech legal market had “matured”, and privatisation work was drying up.

“To some extent there's not as much work going around and there's not the prospect of large growth,” he said.

“The financial markets have not really developed here in the way that we had hoped they would, and privatisation work is coming to an end.

“The companies which had originally staffed their offices with expatriates have now hired Czech local managers, and the Czechs prefer to use Czech lawyers because they are less expensive and they are capable.”

He said the firm expected to lose “transactional” clients who were served principally in the Czech Republic.

“They will do different things,” said Ayres. “Some of them will go to other Western firms and I think lots will probably use other Czech lawyers.”

Ayres confirmed the firm was looking to open in another European centre and said the Asian market was also being considered.