CMS European expansion strategy stalls in Slovakia

CMS Cameron McKenna's European network has delayed its move into Slovakia, while other expansionist firms are pushing ahead.

The Lawyer can reveal that the anticipated November opening of an office in the central European state has been put off until next year. A CMS spokesman says: “[Austrian CMS member firm] Strommer Reich Rohrwig Karasek Hainz hasn't opened in Bratislava. It is expected some time next year.”

While CMS delays its move, Allen & Overy, which became the first UK firm to set up in Slovakia in July, is poaching a number of lawyers from Slovakian law firms.

And last week Linklaters & Alliance became the second international firm to jump on the Slovakian bandwagon when it announced a Bratislava office as part of a trio of new openings in central and eastern Europe.

Prague-based A&O senior associate Hugh Owen will be moving to Bratislava from Prague in the new year to co-head the office with senior Slovak lawyer Igor Palka.

He says A&O plans to expand significantly over the next month. “We are on the verge of recruiting a number of lawyers,” he says.

Since its summer opening, A&O has had a skeleton staff in Bratislava, but it is believed to have covered its start up costs already.

Owen says the firm made the decision to expand by cherry picking top Slovak lawyers, rather than taking a chunk like Linklaters.

He says: “We started up with a very small practice. We were the first UK law firm in but we knew we wouldn't be the last. The decision by Linklaters came as no surprise.”

Owen says the firm plans to add more than six full-time lawyers to a staff of four to deal with the banking, corporate and capital markets work.

Cernejova & Hrbek, Krejci & Mikulasova and Cechova Rakovsky are believed to be among A&O's target firms. Owen says: “We would expect to be involved in all the big privatisations, including telecoms, banking and energy.”

A&O also hopes to cash in on finance and derivatives work, acting for existing banking clients.

Lovell White Durrant and Weil Gotshal & Manges are also believed to be looking at setting up Slovakian bases.