Freshfields launches new German strategy

London corporate head O’Brien moves to Frankfurt in M&A push on the banks

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is shaking up its corporate practice as it moves its London head of corporate to Frankfurt to tackle integration problems.
As part of the overhaul, co-head of corporate Barry O’Brien will be the first UK partner to relocate to Frankfurt, where he will spend two or three days a week. However, he will also continue to advise his London clients.
His role is to coordinate relationships with key corporate and investment banking clients. Later in the summer, co-head Axel Epe will relocate from Düsseldorf to London, where he will focus on strengthening links with key London clients.
There will also be an aggressive programme of exchanges between the firm’s corporate partners and senior associates, as well as the continuation of the long-term secondment system.
O’Brien told The Lawyer the move was designed to improve the working relationship between lawyers in London and their German counterparts. He also said the focus on Germany is in response to the demands of a number of clients.
It is understood that these clients include Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse First Boston and UBS Warburg, which suggests that Freshfields is looking to expand its client base and is currently targeting the banks for advisory work in M&A.
“By and large, the investment banks are growing in Frankfurt. They’re rebalancing their European coverage away from London and bolstering capability in Germany, so we’re seeking to improve the links that we have with London investment banks in Frankfurt,” said O’Brien.
Freshfields recently suffered a blow to its relationship with Goldman Sachs when Wolfgang Feuring, who managed the entire relationship in Germany, departed for Sullivan & Cromwell. The relationship is now being spread among a number of partners, although it is being headed by Frankfurt-based partner Christoph von Bülow.
It is understood that another reason for the move is that there have been a number of accusations in the market that the level of service enjoyed in London does not always translate to Germany.
The firm now has the same number of partners in Germany as in London, yet historically the leverage ratio is much lower, meaning that clients in London have had less back-up from teams of associates in Germany.
Asource at a German bank noted that the fact that Germany is quiet makes this an ideal time to focus on strategy.
Changes to tax laws, the Takeover Code and the huge number of privately-owned businesses mean there is huge opportunity for investment.
“It’s a priority market waiting to erupt,” said O’Brien.