Wragge & Co has formed an exclusive alliance with top 20 German firm Graf von Westphalen Bappert & Modest, snapping up one of the last eligible firms in the German market. Partners at the two firms voted the deal through unanimously last week.
Wragges managing partner Quentin Poole said the two firms will operate as a merged firm in relation to commercial conflicts, with a similar system to that used in the Herbert Smith-Gleiss Lutz alliance.
Poole told The Lawyer: “We certainly wouldn’t work on both sides of a transaction. Potential conflicts will be resolved at managing partner level.”
Graf plumped for Midlands giant Wragges after a protracted 14-month negotiation period, during the early stages of which the German firm was also courted by more than one City firm. Crucially, the deal was not sealed until after Wragges beefed up its London presence with Gerald Bland and Maurice Dwyer.
According to Graf managing partner Barbara Mayer, the alliance was primarily client-driven. She conceded that the deal would have been much more difficult to sell to partners and clients had Wragges not had a significant presence outside the firm’s Birmingham heartland.
Poole said: “The two main reasons we operate London are to have a City base for our IP (intellectual property) practice and because we need a centre for international business.” He said the clients most likely to benefit from the merger are US corporates wanting a European network. Poole named mutual clients Heinz and Ford as examples.
With 50 partners, Graf is the fifth-largest German independent, but the four above it already have exclusive or extremely close referral relationships with City firms. Graf is best known for its work with Mittlestand companies, and as such is probably not the best partner to support Wragges’ ambitions with major corporates. However, the firm does have some larger clients and is a relatively good fit.
For Graf, the alliance was vital to seal its independence. Wragges will be well aware that the firm has something of a chequered history. Until early 2001, Graf had an exclusive relationship with Osborne Clarke, but the alliance broke down after the Frankfurt office split from the rest of the firm following its decision to merge with regional firm Freiburg Bappert Witz & Selbherr. When nine partners then left Graf’s Cologne office to join Osborne Clarke, name partner Friedrich Graf von Westphalen said they had made a mistake.
“We agreed that we’d remain as an independent German co-partnership and that we shouldn’t answer to London or Bristol,” said von Westphalen at the time.
Sources close to Graf say that some of the firm’s best partners were among the departees.