Freshfields loses Frankfurt employment team to boutique start-up

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s entire Frankfurt employment team has exited to launch a boutique, with the magic circle firm sending in a two-lawyer team from Cologne to plug the gap.

Two partners and four associates are set to leave Freshfields alongside a member of the knowledge management team and a personal assistant.

Frankfurt partners Ulrike Schweibert and Jochen Leßmann are launching employment firm Schweibert Leßmann & Partner on 1 May, in a move fuelled by the problems of conflicts and fees associated with large firms.

Schweibert said he and Leßmann had been considering the change for a while, with the decision inspired by the fact that Freshfields was “being developed in a way which is probably not what we want for developing an employment practice”, Leßmann said.

She commented: “It’s more and more difficult in a huge firm where you have to cope with growing demands regarding conflicts and rates.”

The duo are set to bring Freshfields principal associates Rüdiger Hopfe und Ulla Rupp with them, with both individuals joining as partners. Associates Björn Glattfeld and Tina von Riedesel, as well as knowledge management employee Nikolaj Kubik, will also join the Frankfurt boutique’s team outside the partnership.

The partners are expecting clients to follow them, with the team currently working on a large restructuring. It is planning on working together on matters with Freshfields, and the departure is understood to be amicable.

“I think what we expect is a significant change in the market which means that companies tend to instruct boutique firms, but also big M&A [law] firms tend to instruct boutique firms,” Leßmann added.

In response to the exits, Freshfields has transferred two Cologne-based employment lawyers – partner René Döring and principal associate Timon Grau – to Frankfurt.

Freshfields is planning to specialise in Frankfurt on benefits and pensions schemes, Döring’s main area of expertise, particularly for financial institutions. Expansion of the team is expected.

The move follows rival Linklaters’ significant downsizing of its London employment and incentives practice, with the team dropping from three partners to one in roughly two years (17 October 2011).