Linklaters signs deal with German firm

LINKLATERS & Paines has unveiled a joint venture with a German firm in a fresh attempt to crack the tough market for legal work in Frankfurt.

The international practice is joining forces with Schon Nolte Finkelnberg & Clemm (SNFC) in January, to form a new outfit in the city, Linklaters & Schon SNFC.

Last week's news came two months after Linklaters said it was looking for a new partner to head its Frankfurt office following Tony Hickinbotham's return to London.

Trade sources see the venture as a departure because the firm has, in the past, preferred to expand without outside help.

The new practice will incorporate the UK firm's Frankfurt office, and will be run jointly by a London partner, who is yet to be named, and one from Schon SNFC.

Linklaters' partner Stephen Edlmann said the German market was “a very interesting one with a number of different options available”. He said the firm changed its strategy “not because it [the current office] didn't work but because it was not going to grow much larger”.

One of the options was closure but, said Edlmann, this “did not fit in with our general strategy”.

Managing partner Terence Kyle said the operation offered “tremendous opportunities” by specialising in mergers and acquisitions, project finance and international capital markets.

“A joint venture enables us to achieve our complementary business objectives: a German law capability for Linklaters and an office in Frankfurt for SNFC. We are confident that by joining forces with one of the major German law firms, we will best be able to serve the interests of our clients, and to meet their increasing need for integrated legal services in a key European financial centre.”

Peter Nolte, senior partner at SNFC, said the difference in size – Linklaters has 600 lawyers compared to SNFC's 60 – was not important.

“We share a common approach to the practice of law and a total commitment to quality and to service. This is the basis on which our joint venture is founded and why we will succeed.”

Frankfurt is widely seen as a tough nut for foreigners to crack. Earlier this year, Slaughter and May shut its office there, and last year, US lawyers White & Case pulled out.

Observers say that to succeed, firms must practice German law and use German lawyers. Joint ventures are seen as one of the best ways to grow a business quickly.

In August, Linklaters said there were no plans to close the Frankfurt office and said it was considering a number of internal candidates in order to replace Hickinbotham.