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The new managing partner of what will be Hogan Lovells’ Berlin office has said he chose to stay with the firm despite most of his colleagues setting up alone, arguing his practice needs the backing of an international firm.
Last month, 18 partners from Hogan & Hartson Raue made a surprise exit to set up independent firm Raue following the announcement of the merger between Hogan & Hartson and Lovells, which takes place on 1 May.
Christoph Wagner, who is currently a partner at Hogan, is one of eight partners who decided to stay with Hogan Lovells to head up the newly merged firm’s base in the German capital.
“Sadly, I cannot join my friends in their cosy office,” said Wagner. “My clients require an international structure. I need a platform that’s adequate. I cannot work in a Berlin-based firm.”
Wagner said that while local firms worked well for some clients, larger multi-national clients such as investment banks would not work with smaller firms.
Wagner joined Hogan & Hartson from Oppenhoff & Rädler in 2001 after choosing to break away from the latter when it merged with Linklaters, citing a conflict with his client BSkyB.
Wagner would not comment on the potential conflict between his client and ITV, which remains a trophy client for Lovells in the UK.
“In large firms you always have conflicts,” he said.
Shortly after the merger was announced Lovells said conflicts surrounding the media and pharmaceutical practices at both firms “would be looked at” once the merger is complete.
There have been half a dozen breakaways from international firms to form German independents in the past decade.
Many have come from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. Frankfurt-based Smeets Haas Wolff, which was set up by a group of associates from Freshfields and Hengeler Mueller in 2000, was one of the earliest.
Others include Heymann & Partner Rechtsanwälte, corporate boutique Renzenbrink Raschke Von Knobelsdorff Heiser.
Meanwhile, in 2008 a group of Allen & Overy IP partners spun off to form Harte-Bavendamm Rechtsanwälte.
Lovells closed its Berlin office in 2006 after its team was unwilling to relocate to Frankfurt. Wagner said the city was becoming more important for international firms and benefited from being an attractive place to live and work for young lawyers.
“The trend of German law firms splitting away from UK/US firms is overstated. Those firms all had reasons to break away. This is a reverse spin-off - the youngest, most ambitious people stay [with Hogan Lovells],” he insisted. “Berlin has become much more important over the past few years, the capital is quite important for business. Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Lovells downsized and have been looking to come back.”
Wagner said the Hogan Lovells merger made sense for both firms.
“It’s important in a global market to be on the shortlist of multinational companies,” he said. “Together, Hogan Lovells will have a much better starting point.”
Last week, Lovells said it would be shutting its Chicago office after the merger (TheLawyer.com, 30 March). The plan is still subject to partnership approval but it is expected that the office will close at the end of October this year, six months after the firm’s merger with Hogan & Hartson goes live.
In early March, 38 lawyers from Hogan’s Warsaw office, including six partners, defected to K&L Gates as a result of the Hogan Lovells announcement.