Clifford Chance woos Wolf Theiss to plug Austrian gap

In its latest quest for European expansion, Clifford Chance is courting the Austrian firm Wolf Theiss & Partners.

But Vienna-based Wolf Theiss stresses that it is keeping its options open, although it does not deny that it is in talks with Clifford Chance.

Wolf Theiss partner Richard Wolf says: “We are in a position to take our time and carefully consider what propositions are being made.

“Our interest is in merging with a firm that is active internationally. This is what we want and this is what our clients want.”

Sources say the two firms are a good match because of Clifford Chance’s strong focus on Central Europe.

It is understood that both firms are equally profitable and that integration would not be a problem. Wolf Theiss was formerly in an alliance with Freshfields Deringer and is used to working with an Anglo-Saxon partner

Merging with an international firm has been a priority for Wolf Theiss since it was cut out of the merger between Freshfields and Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber in August.

The 20-partner Austrian practice, which also has an office in Prague, specialises in banking, finance and capital markets, and is regarded as one of the most entrepreneurial firms in the country.

Its clients include GE Capital, Erste Bank and a number of investment banks, such as Lehmann Brothers and Goldman Sachs.

Sources in Austria have previously tipped Allen & Overy as the most likely merger candidate for Wolf Theiss because of the London firm’s expertise in international banking and its plans to expand in continental Europe.

But Clifford Chance already has a strong Eastern European presence with offices in Berlin, Budapest, Leipzig, Moscow, Prague and Warsaw. While it is believed to be talking to other Austrian firms, Wolf Theiss is the front runner.