Dewey exodus spreads to Germany as partners prepare to quit

Dewey & LeBoeuf is set to lose members of its German base for the first time since this year’s global partner exodus started, with the entire Frankfurt team close to agreeing a deal to join rival firms.

A capital markets team, understood to include partners Philipp von Ilberg and Joseph Marx, is in advanced talks with two firms including US outfit McDermott Will & Emery, with a deal currently near to being finalised.

The team in Frankfurt, Dewey’s only German base, is also speaking to another competitor thought to be an expansive firm in Germany that already has a base in the country’s financial hub. McDermott does not currently have a Frankfurt office.

Separately, the rest of the nine-partner Frankfurt team, which includes tax and funds partner Bernulph von Crailsheim, corporate partner Benedikt von Schorlemer and derivatives partner Walburga Kullmann, are in discussions with a number of firms about a move.

It had previously been expected that the entire office would move together, probably to a Frankfurt start-up, because its size and breadth would make it hard to slot the group into an existing practice in the city.

However, commentators said the partners are now likely to split up, with more than one firm benefiting.

None of the moves have been formally completed, with a Dewey spokesperson confirming that it has not yet received any resignations from Frankfurt partners. McDermott declined to comment.

Dewey’s German offering was hit in 2010 when tax rainmaker Hanno Berger and finance partner Kai-Uwe Steck quit to launch a spin-off firm (4 June 2010).

A source close to the firm said today: “They’ve been falling apart for a while but the remainder of what’s still there is without any exception close to finding a [new firm]. They’re trying to cross the finish line.”

Another source commented: “I suspect that the whole team were in discussions but they were not able to find a unified position just to change the plaque on the door. They’re all highly regarded professionals in the firm. Clearly there are a number of firms who’ve been trying to get into the [Frankfurt] market for years.”

Dewey’s European offices are facing tough times, with a new five-partner London steering group now preparing the UK and Paris LLP for administration (1 May 2012).

Moscow partners are also in talks with rivals over a defection (26 April 2012), while partners across Europe, including some remaining City partners, are also considering moves. Italian partners have considered solutions including leaving the US LLP (10 April 2012).

Roughly 80 partners have left the firm across its global network since the start of 2012, although until now the exodus has been focused on the US and London.

Last month The Lawyer reported that senior bankruptcy partners at the firm were working on a sell-off of the firm, with preparations for a deal potentially involving a scaling back of the business to a US-only operation (19 April 2012).