The move is designed to strengthen CHSH’s position in Budapest against Austrian-based rivals Wolf Theiss and Schoenherr, and sees the firm stake a significant claim in the wider race to become a Central and Eastern European (CEE) regional player.
Referring to the firm’s two rivals CHSH managing partner Albert Birkner said: “They’re strong in other jurisdictions, but with this move we’ve by far overtaken them in this jurisdiction.”
CHSH has had a relationship with Attila Dezsö, the founding partner of Dezsö & Partners, since the early 1990s, when he led the firm’s Hungarian office. He left to set up on his own in 2004 (see below).
The new firm, CHSH Dezsö & Partners, joins the CHSH network of nine offices across eight countries.
“We’ve been in Hungary for 15 years and this was a chance to further enforce our presence. Mr Dezsö’s well connected – it’s a good catch for us,” Birkner said.
The deal reinforces the importance of Hungary as a market for law firms in the region, particularly because of its proximity to Austria. This despite magic circle firms Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and, most recently, Clifford Chance leaving the country.
“Even if Hungary isn’t the most interesting market to global firms, it’s important for us on a regional basis,” said Birkner. “Traditionally, there’s been more Austrian investment into Hungary, but there’s an increasing amount of business from Hungary into Austria. The big internationals have left so now there’s a combination of established Hungarian firms and Austrian firms. There’s always a competition between Schoenherr, Wolf Theiss and us.”
The move continues the shifting presence of the three Austrian-based firms in CEE. With this latest merger CHSH now has a stronger Budapest presence than its Austrian counterparts.
Birkner admitted that the move was part of a long-term plan to become a regional firm and that, despite now “not being the right time” to partake in a larger expansion plan, the firm is looking at Albania, Bosnia and Turkey.
The tie-up between Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati (CHSH) and Dezsö & Partners shows the importance of relationships in the incestuous Central and Eastern European (CEE) market.
In the early 1990s CHSH was a member of Pünder Group, an alliance with Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster in Germany, De Pardieu Brocas in France, and firms in Switzerland, the
Netherlands and Belgium. Four years later, CHSH joined forces with Pünder to open in Hungary, with Attila Dezsö heading up the team.
In 1998 Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster merged with Clifford Chance and Rogers & Wells to form Clifford Chance Pünder in Germany, excluding the members of the Pünder Group (including CHSH). In the same year Dezsö joined PwC Legal and CHSH continued its Hungary operation, growing to 11 lawyers. Dezsö left PwC in 2004 to form his own firm, Dezsö & Partners, developing rapidly to 25 lawyers.
This month CHSH was reunited with Dezsö, creating a 27-lawyer firm in Budapest.