Clifford Chance raids Wessings

Clifford Chance is to open a Dusseldorf office in September in a move that will make it one of the few foreign law firms with a German office outside Frankfurt.

Clifford Chance has poached two partners for its new office from the Dusseldorf arm of leading German firm Wessing Berenberg-Gossler Zimmermann Lange, a move that mirrors its poaching last August of 11 lawyers, including three partners, from Wessings' Frankfurt office.

Gustaf-Rudolf Schlieper and Dr Klaus Grossmann, who specialise in mergers and acquisitions and finance and corporate law, will be joined in Dusseldorf by corporate partner Christopher Kellett from Clifford Chance's Frankfurt office and three associates.

The new office consolidates Clifford Chance's position as the leading UK firm in Germany. Its recruitment of the Wessings lawyers in Frankfurt was regarded as a major coup because German lawyers had previously been unwilling to work for UK firms. The office now has 45 lawyers, including 10 partners.

However, Dr Jan Byok, a partner at Wessings' Dusseldorf office and a member of the German-British Law Association, said the defecting partners were “middle ranking”.

He added that one of the partners who joined Clifford Chance from his firm in Frankfurt had since returned to Wessings, and hinted other lawyers may follow him, saying, “German lawyers cannot deal with the cultural differences in foreign law firms.”

Mark Trapnell, a partner at Freshfields' Frankfurt office said Clifford Chance's move into Dusseldorf was “a logical thing to do”.

“It makes perfect sense to move into cities other than Frankfurt, because German commerce is not concentrated in one place like in London. The big German corporations are much more regionalised,” he commented.

He added: “Clifford Chance is in the lucky position of having the resources to make this move. Other UK firms in Frankfurt will need to build up to a certain size before they can follow suit.”

Freshfields is currently looking to make its own breakthrough by negotiating an association with German firm Deringer Tessin Herrman & Sedemund but Trapnell said no decision had been reached. Talks are expected to resume after the summer.

Meanwhile, Ashurst Morris Crisp has announced plans to open a Frankfurt office in the autumn.