Linklaters has made a bit of a habit of spinning off offices it no longer sees as central to its strategy. Eastern Europe, where the firm’s offices in Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest and Prague broke away to form independent firm Kinstellar, is a case in point.
But the magic circle firm must be kicking itself that it let its Cologne office go, if for no other reason than it could have got one up on its rival Allen & Overy.
Why? Well, Linklaters spin-off Oppenhoff & Partner has only gone and raided A&O for Germany’s highest profile corporate lawyer, Rolf Koerfer (see story).
Hiring Koerfer from Shearman & Sterling last year was a real coup for A&O and his excellent connections in German business managed to get the firm a role on the €12bn restructuring of Schaeffler’s debt, one of the biggest deals of its type in Europe.
But now, after less than two years at A&O, Koerfer is off, citing Oppenhoff’s “combination of business sense and legal skills” as the main reason behind the move.
That and the fact that he and Michael Oppenhoff go way back, of course. Back as far as when Oppenhoff & Rädler, in which both were partners, was part of Linklaters & Alliance.
Koerfer dealt Linklaters a major blow when he defected to Shearman in 2000 with these parting words: “The strategic development of the firm is not what I would have liked. The Linklaters approach is not right for the German market.”
When Linklaters cut its Cologne office adrift in 2007, Oppenhoff was the ringleader of a team that refused to relocate to Düsseldorf, choosing instead to set up a stand-alone Cologne practice.
Given his firm goodbye, it’s unlikely Koerfer would have rejoined Linklaters. All told, it’s a small but significant victory for the independent firm model.