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Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton & Scheetz has shut down its operations in the CIS and sold off its practice in the region to Coudert Brothers, ending six months of negotiations between the two firms.
Pepper Hamilton operated three offices in the CIS in Moscow, Almaty and St Petersburg. The offices in Moscow and St Petersburg, where Couderts is already established, have been closed, while Couderts has taken over the Almaty office.
James Murray, Pepper Hamilton's executive partner, said: 'We have been monitoring closely our operations in Russia and other former Soviet republics for some time. Given the uncertainty of the business and political climates, we decided some months ago that it did not make economic sense for us to continue to maintain offices in the region.'
Couderts has taken on key members of Pepper Hamilton's CIS team including four partners Ed Lieberman, a seasoned practitioner in Russia, London office head Sally March, US-based Jeffery Hayes and Almaty resident partner Jonathan Cahn and Russian qualified Of Counsel Larisa Afanasyeva.
The acquisition increases the number of Coudert lawyers based in the CIS to 30, giving it one of the largest practices of the foreign law firms operating in the region.
Richard Dean, the Washington DC-based partner who led negotiations for Couderts, said: 'The acquisition puts us in a very strong position. Not only does it give us a new office in Kazakhstan, but also a stronger presence in Russia.'
He added that the move would, in particular, extend the firm's practice in the booming energy sector.
Observers believe that the acquisition could mark the beginning of a shake-out of the Russian legal market. Elena Kirillova, head of the CIS practice at Cameron McKenna, regards the market, with about 65 foreign law firms, as overcrowded. 'Over the next couple of years, you are going to see a lot of mergers and acquisitions of teams. There will be a smaller number of firms, but larger in size', she said.