THE PRAGUE legal market is seeing increased activity as leading US lawyers switch allegiance to rival employers.
In recent months a number of top US practices have suffered partnership losses in the Czech Republic, including Dewey Ballantine, White & Case and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey
Earlier this year, Squire Sanders lost Jan Matejcek to White & Case and the firm has been hit again in the latest round of hirings, with the signing of its real estate team – including department head Evan Lazar – by Weil Gotshal & Manges.
But the move which has stunned Prague's legal community is the resignation of White & Case executive partner Daniel Arbess who left to head new private investment firm Stratton Investments.
Arbess, known in Prague for his work in advising the Czech government on privatisation transactions, had been in the city since the opening of White & Case's office five years ago.
His departure is expected to deliver a blow to the firm which last week said it was “very sorry” to lose him.
“Dan was the first person here, he basically started the office and he built it,” said one Prague-based US lawyer. “If there's one person who starts, builds and is perceived to be one of the strongest performers in an office then, from the outside looking in, it would be my perception that if they leave it could be a blow to the firm.”
Another practice in the region is believed to be making plans to close its office, while others are said to be suffering from a cut in the number of contracts now on offer.
But while some observers claim the moves are the result of a reduction in work following the country's split from Slovakia, others say mobility on the legal scene points to the healthy state of the market.
Olof Clausson, who recently quit as managing attorney of Dewey Ballantine's Prague practice to sign as London-based counsel with Rogers & Wells, said the initial boom in privatisation and joint venture work had been reduced, while the number of practices in the region had grown. “More and more firms have established and there is simply not enough work in Prague for some 15 foreign firms,” said Clausson.
“During 1991-1992 a lot of firms, particularly English and American ones, established themselves in Prague, but they did not always have a clear strategy.”
He added: “A lot of this current movement is down to the fact that certain firms are not too committed to the region.
“It also signifies the fact that there are too many law firms in a country of only eight million people.”
However, Weil Gotshal's resident partner Joe Tortorici disagreed.
“I think you're seeing a little bit of mobility, but I wouldn't call it fluid,” he said. “I think it's testimony to the fact that there's a healthy market, there's competition, and people are exploring opportunities.”