Freshfields loses traction with Porsche

Former go-to adviser takes a back seat as rivals overtake in car race

Porsche

Porsche was once one of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s most prized Continental clients, but conflicts have forced it to get out at the traffic lights.

The firm acts for the Porsche family, with Vienna arbitration partner Günther Horvath the relationship partner. But because of this client tie, and the changed role of the family in the Porsche business, the magic circle firm has been forced over the years to offload the corporate client.

When the German carmaker increased its stake in rival Volkswagen in 2007, Frankfurt corporate partners Christoph von Bülow and Thomas Buecker led for the fast-car giant.

By 2009 and the mooted merger with Volkswagen, the role had been eroded: Buecker was co-adviser to Porsche, but Slaughter and May best friend Hengeler Mueller took a role for the company alongside him. Düsseldorf corporate partner Andreas Austmann led for the German independent, while Horvath advised the Porsche family shareholders.

But four years on and Freshfields’ corporate role has disappeared: Buecker was nowhere to be seen on the Volkswagen merger this year, which was finally tied up this summer after a major tax obstacle was dismantled. Freshfields Frankfurt tax partners Wilfried Schaefer and Martin Schiessl did advise, but it was Hengeler that told Porsche to seek a second tax opinion, with Ernst & Young Stuttgart lawyer Michael Schaden devising the loophole.

Perhaps Freshfields’ lawyers should get a Scalextric to keep them occupied.

Joshua Freedman