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Austrian firm Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati (CHSH) has elected a managing partner duo after Albert Birkner completed his three-and-a-half year tenure in the job.
A two-woman team of banking and finance head Edith Hlawati and contentious business head Irene Welser has taken on the role.
Birkner has stepped down to focus on his position as head of the firm’s M&A practice. Hlawati and Welser will continue to head their respective practice areas.
It is the second time Hlawati has sat in the management role, having previously served as the firm’s first-ever managing partner from 2003 to 2006.
Hlawati said the firm was well placed to capitalise on its three years of expansion into Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
“Based on our organisational structure of specialist departments combined with our competence for all-in-one solutions, CHSH is very well-positioned,” said Hlawati.
The privatisation of Austrian Airlines and the bank rescue package were among the highlights of a busy 2009 for the firm. CHSH also won Austrian Law Firm of the Year at The Lawyer European Awards in November.
In tandem with her position at CHSH, Welser is honorary professor of civil and commercial law at the University of Vienna’s faculty of economic sciences.
Birkner said he was satisfied with the firm’s expansion into CEE during his tenure. Under his stewardship CHSH opened new operations in Belgrade (in cooperation with Jankovic Popovic & Mitic), Minsk, Sofia and most recently Budapest, where the firm completed a significant merger with Dezsö & Partner in October 2009 to create a 27-lawyer office.
“You can never achieve everything you want to, but we were quite successful in enlarging the firm into CEE. We also did a good job of upholding our capital markets position in Austria,” said Birkner.
Birkner said the appointment of Welser, a litigator, and Hlawati, who specialises in banking and finance and privatisations, heralded a new era for the firm, which is well-known in Austria for its strong capital markets and M&A practices.
“This is a good sign for what the firm stands for,” Birkner said. “Both [Hlawati and Welser] have prominent tasks in their respective practices.”
Hlawati hinted that the firm aimed to strengthen its other practice areas and pursue further growth.
“A good corporate law firm operates and acts as a whole,” she said. “It combines entrepreneurial thinking with legal know-how - not the other way round.”
Birkner added that the appointment was a “positive sign” for prospective female partners at the firm.
It is the first time that CHSH has appointed co-managing partners. The pair have also become the first-ever female co-managing partners in the Austrian legal market, where the number of female partners scores fairly low.
Rival Austrian law firms Schoenherr and Wolf Theiss have three and four female partners respectively, while CHSH counts Hlawati and Welser as its only female contingent at partner level.
CHSH is the third largest firm in Austria, with more than 150 lawyers across Vienna, Belgrade, Bratislava, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Minsk, Sofia and Timisoara.