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Linklaters & Alliance has beaten Clifford Chance to set up a Romanian office and is opening a further two offices in central and eastern Europe.
The firm will open offices in Bucharest, Bratislava and Budapest with the Linklaters & Alliance brand on 1 January. The offices will initially open with one partner in each, working with teams of up to 10 assistants.
Linklaters has taken two partners from Canadian-based Burns Schwartz, leaving the future of the firm in Eastern Europe in question.
The raids mean that the emerging markets specialist firm is now left with only its two partners, who are based in Prague and Hanoi.
Slovakian office head Jason Mogg and Romanian head Michael Schilling will be responsible for running the new Linklaters' offices.
And in Hungary, Linklaters will be taking partner and finance practice head Csaba Berecz from Clifford Chance to run the operation in Budapest.
Clifford Chance is understood to have been in talks with a Romanian firm but it has yet to announce any new presence in Eastern Europe.
Nick Eastwell, Linklaters' capital markets partner specialising in emerging markets, will be managing the central and Eastern European practice which will be co-ordinated from London.
Eastwell says Linklaters was approached by the lawyers from Burns Schwartz who were looking to expand internationally by associating with an international brand.
Eastwell says that it is
Linklaters' strategy to focus on central and Eastern European countries, which will be the next to accede to EU membership.
He says the move is in line with past expansion. When the deal was struck with the Alliance of European Lawyers to form Linklaters & Alliance, it gained new offices in Warsaw and Prague.
Linklaters argues the move was driven to benefit pan-European clients in four main areas: finance, including capital markets and privatisation; banking, which will include the newly privatised banks; projects work; and general merger and acquisition work.
Eastwell says the move has in part been driven by existing clients in its banking and corporate sectors.
He says that Linklaters clients who would benefit from the office openings include Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse First Boston in the US, and Flemings, Union Bank of Switzerland and SBC Dillon Reid, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Vodafone, which Linklaters' is currently acting for in Hungary.
Eastwell believes that the Linklaters & Alliance firms will also benefit from the new offices.
In particular Oppenhoff & Radler acts for German investors who are interested in Slovakia, and Linklaters' Paris office is expected to steer a great deal of work to the Romanian office.
He says that although there are currently no plans for expansion in the immediate future, in the next three to five years Bulgaria and Croatia are likely to be the firm's next targets.