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Hammonds is looking to shore up its German offering, with one eye on Frankfurt - but the firm may have a tough time attracting partners following the closure of its Munich office.
Hammonds already has an office in Berlin and recently expanded there, bringing in two partners from Frankfurt. But the firm is still keen to grow further.
“We’re about 30 lawyers Germany-wide, but that’s not the size we want to be,” said Kai Mertens, Hammonds’ Germany head. “We want to become larger. We’re trying to stabilise our client base and if we can grow by taking something in Frankfurt then that’s an option. Obviously Frankfurt is still a very strong market for legal services in Germany.
“We’re not particularly a finance firm but Frankfurt also has a lot of Mittelstand businesses because you can get from there to everywhere. For us it’s about finding the right group of people that matches our group of clients, which is mainly private equity houses and corporates.”
But Mertens stressed that nothing had been finalised and did not rule out opening in another German city.
“There’s no decision that’s been made,” he said. “We’re considering our options and if we find the right people we’ll proceed, but there’s no deal going on. Our priority is to grow revenues and profitability in Germany.”
If Hammonds was to launch in Frankfurt however, the national firm would want it to be a substantial operation.
“We wouldn’t be taking on only one person. If we did something we’d do it with a team, though probably one smaller than we have in Berlin,” Mertens explained. “I’m a strong believer in setting priorities: it’s about who’s joining us, then where they’re located.”
But Hammonds may find good teams hard to come by. Due to its size and real estate focus, the firm is less well-known in Germany and over the past months, lawyers in Frankfurt, perhaps spurred by the city’s economic strength, have rediscovered their appetite for branching off, as opposed to joining a network.
In July it was announced that four partners from Baker & McKenzie’s anti-trust team in Frankfurt would leave to start a boutique. Similarly, partners from Dewey & LeBoeuf’s Frankfurt office left, also in July, to start a boutique tax practice with Noerr’s Munich co-head of tax Stefan Hölzemann. The previous month, Dewey’s office managing partner in Frankfurt, Hanno Berger, quit to launch a tax boutique with banking partner Kai-Uwe Steck.
Nor is Hammonds’ performance in Munich where, in February this year, it was forced to shut its office after losing five lawyers to Eversheds, expected to work in the firm’s favour.
“One of the main reasons for a team to join a firm such as Hammonds would be to leverage off of London,” said one lawyer at a German independent. “Given what happened in Munich, that may show there’s not enough work coming from London.”
However, after Munich it is likely Hammonds will be just as cautious to find the right partners to man its second office.