Clifford Chance loses German head to Willkie

US firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher is to open its first office in Germany by taking Thomas Heymann, former Clifford Chance managing partner in Germany.

Telecoms specialist Heymann is understood to be taking a team of IT/telecoms lawyers, including partner Sven Heun and Bernhard von Braunschweig. He is due to start on 1 October this year.

The move is a major coup for Willkie Farr as Heymann was the man who kickstarted Clifford Chance’s German operation. He arrived from Wessing’s Frankfurt office in 1996. His clients include German banks and software houses, plus international organisations such as Microsoft and Andersen Consulting. Heun is understood to have advised MCI Worldcom.

Heymann declined to comment, but the team is understood to have been dissatisfied with the conflicts of interest arising from Clifford Chance’s merger with Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster at the start of the year. The departure is said to be amicable.

Willkie Farr has a longstanding Paris office and is best known for private equity transactions, particularly with a high yield element. However, its German hires indicate that the firm is looking to build up a general pan-European corporate practice.

Although Willkie Farr has a London office, it has not yet built up UK capability. Paris partner Daniel Urstel says: “We’re interested in expansion in Europe and we’re working hard on it.”

Willkie Farr’s move is the most recent in a series of US assaults on the German market. Although Shearman & Sterling has been the only US firm with any serious presence in Germany for the last few years, other US firms are now following suit.

Weil Gotshal & Manges took on Josef Tobien, former head of the German takeover commission in May (The Lawyer, 22 May) plus former Jones Day Reavis & Pogue partner Liza Kroeger to launch its Frankfurt office.

Last week White & Case and Feddersen Laule Ewerwahn Scherzberg Finkelnburg Clemm voted to merge (The Lawyer, 26 June 2000).

And Shearman & Sterling itself further boosted its German capability last May when it took on a group of partners from highly-rated corporate boutique Schilling Zutt & Anschütz.

Willkie Farr was the 14th most profitable firm in the US last year, with average profits per partner at $955,000 (£600,000) and gross revenues at $237m (£155m).