US firm Steptoe & Johnson has given up its eastern European foothold by handing over its last remaining offices to rival firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey.
The offices concerned are Steptoe & Johnson's 13-lawyer Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) practices, based in Moscow and Almaty in Kazakhstan. The loss of these offices brings nearly a decade of presence in the area to an end.
The Washington-based chairman of Steptoe & Johnson, Lon Bouknight says the adverse economic climate was behind the decision to pull out of the area.
However, he says: “I don't think our strategy is going to change much as a result of this. We do a lot of international finance and international trade work from Washington and not having offices is not going to inhibit that.”
Bouknight says the departing CIS lawyers are focused on purely local work.
Joseph Markoski, London-based managing partner of Squire Sanders' European practice, says the move to expand in CIS conflicts with the growing trend for firms to slim down operations in the area.
Markoski says: “For us it's consistent with our development of our energy, telecoms and IP practices which have not been affected by the downturn. It's a happy coincidence of their strengths complementing ours.”
As part of a wider reorganisation, Markoski says there will be some movement of lawyers between the offices.
“We will integrate first before we expand. The biggest thing that we are going to focus on is Almaty. We would like to tie Almaty in with Kiev,” says Markoski.
The recent acquisition adds an Almaty office to the firm's existing Cleveland-based Squire Sanders' European offices in Budapest, Kiev, Moscow, Prague, Brussels and Madrid.