US firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal is closing its London office – leaving its high-profile partners, poached from leading UK firms, unsure of their futures.
The Chicago-based firm has set a target date of 1 December to shut down its operations.
The office was founded in 1994 and has made high-profile recruitments including former Allen & Overy partners Peter Borrowdale, who heads the office, and property specialist Rupert Jones.
Very few magic circle partners have been poached by US firms.
The office's other partners are ex-DJ Freeman property partner Antoinette Tucker and Jonathan Griffiths, who joined from Linklaters. The other casualties are four assistants and two trainees.
The lawyers only learned of the decision last week when Sonnenscheins chairman Duane Quaini flew to London to tell staff.
Quaini says: “The London market has changed a great deal since we opened our office. You have got to make a very substantial long-term investment, and if you do not it is difficult to succeed and penetrate the market.
“We decided our investment should be refocused in other markets, and there are other opportunities to service our international clients in London, which we will resolve quite soon.”
Quaini says these options include an affiliation or a merger with a UK firm. He will not comment on whether he is in talks with any firms at the moment.
In June, the office was hit by the departure of insurance and reinsurance partner Peter Schwartz to Baker & McKenzie (The Lawyer, 7 June).
Schwartz told The Lawyer that Sonnenscheins did not give the London office “sufficient local discretion to get on with things”.
At the time, Jones said Schwartz's decision was a disappointment but promised further expansion by the firm in Europe. “Resources will be deployed,” he said.
The London office is remaining tight-lipped on the closure, under orders from Chicago.