Five Hengeler lawyers break away to form corporate boutique in Frankfurt

A team of five senior ­associates from Slaughter and May’s German best friend Hengeler Mueller have left to launch their own Frankfurt ­boutique.

Wendelstein Rechtsanwälte, which will have a largely corporate focus, has been founded by five lawyers who left Hengeler’s Frankfurt office in December 2010: Philipp von Bismarck, Matthias Budde, Frank ­Fischer, Lars Ferenc Freytag and Karl Thomas Koenen.

They are joined by Daniel Müller-Etienne, who left Hengeler in 2009 to join Boston Consulting Group’s corporate development practice group.

All six are partners in the new firm.

While it is unusual for Hengeler to suffer senior departures, the split was nevertheless amicable. Markus Meier, a partner in Hengeler’s Frankfurt office, said the team had told the partnership about their plans long before they left.

“We take on around 50 or 60 new associates every year,” said Meier, “so losing five is the natural course of business. What’s noteworthy about these guys is that they left to join forces and open on their own.

“I think it’s a sign that at Hengeler people learn not only to be lawyers, but also to be entrepreneurs.”

Fischer agreed that the Wendelstein partners “had a very good time at Hengeler”, adding that they all “wanted to experience something new”.

“We’re all at the same point in our careers, have similar backgrounds and complement each other well – and we’re friends,” he said. “It’s not often that a situation like that comes along.

“We can offer a broad range of services as well as specialised services such as restructuring, litigation and tax. It comes from our education at Hengeler. We can build teams for almost every situation.”

Both Hengeler and Wendelstein have said that they are open to referring cases to each other, but that no formal relationship exists.

For the immediate future Wendelstein has no plans to expand.

“We’ll start fresh and lean,” said Freytag. “We want to establish a dealflow first. I think, for the first year, we’ll take on the entire risk ourselves. It’s not our plan to hire associates before being established in the market.”

The firm’s name, Wendelstein, is derived from a mountain in Bavaria, but is also an old German word for a tower with a spiral staircase.

“For us it stands for solidity and high aspirations,” said Fischer.

Lawyers in Germany are positive about the new firm, with one pointing out that Greenfort, a firm established by a group of associates from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler in 2005, has done well since its launch, regularly landing high-end mandates.

“It’s representative of the fact that a collection of younger corporate associates in Germany often has a greater opportunity to split off and be taken seriously by the market than in England,” said one Germany-based partner.

Another German lawyer said: “They’ll have good speaking relations with other professionals in their mid-30s at the investment banks and in the buyout fund communities.”