Bird & Bird builds nest in Germany as Osborne Clarke flees the scene

Osborne Clarke gives up on Frankfurt as Taylor Wessing steps in; Bird & Bird shrugs off drop in profits with further investment

Bird & Bird builds nest in Germany as Osborne Clarke flees the scene” />The fluctuating fortunes of tech-focused firms Bird & Bird and Osborne Clarke have been vividly illustrated by recent events in Germany. While Bird & Bird is marching into Munich, Osborne Clarke’s four-partner Frankfurt office has defected to Taylor Wessing.
Both firms have watched profits drop since the collapse of their core technology market, but Bird & Bird is determined to invest. With chief executive David Kerr repeatedly stressing the need to invest during the downturn, the firm will open a Munich office on 1 October, following recent openings in Milan, Düsseldorf and The Hague.
Osborne Clarke, on the other hand, has decided to pull the plug on its Frankfurt investment, which was under
taken when times were much rosier. In the end Osborne Clarke could not offer its Frankfurt office the support that it needed to thrive. Managing partner Simon Beswick said: “Our guys felt that to be credible in the Frankfurt market you needed to have a substantially larger office and broader offering, whereas we’d prefer to put our
investment in Cologne rather than Frankfurt.”
Three of the four Taylor Wessing-bound partners joined Osborne Clarke in May 2001 from Coudert Schurmann, with the fourth following from the same firm the following March. The original three joined at the same time that the firm launched in Cologne with six partners from failed merger partner Graf von Westphalen Fritze & Modest.
Adrian Taylor, then Frankfurt managing partner, said at the time: “Frankfurt’s corporate finance and private equity markets have been at the centre of our target market since we established an office there in 1994.”
Taylor departed soon after and it was the collapse of those markets that caused the firm to retreat. “Frankfurt itself, as a domestic marketplace, has had a pretty horrid time over the last three years and doesn’t appear to be heading anywhere fast,” said Beswick.
Much of the Frankfurt office’s fee income came from Osborne Clarke referrals. Beswick says he is hoping to retain much of the work, predicting that Cologne will turn over around e6.5m (£4.1m) in 2003-04, a small increase on last year.
German managing partner Stefan Rizor has expressed a desire to open in Munich, although any solid plans to open there are still a long way off.
A UK Osborne Clarke partner said: “If you’re looking at Germany from an international point of view in today’s climate, as opposed to two or three years ago, you’d look to Munich first.”
While the federal nature of Germany and the need to be in certain locations can be exaggerated, there is little doubt that Bird & Bird is investing in the technological heart of Germany.
Munich was Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s most profitable German office last year and, despite the collapse of media giant Kirch Group and the softening of the IT market, it still remains attractive.
Bird & Bird German managing partner Wolfgang von Meibom is particularly bullish. The firm launched in Düsseldorf just 16 months ago and has already doubled in size to 33 lawyers. Von Meibom is dismissive of Osborne Clarke and his former colleagues at Taylor Wessing. He gives a clear indication of the firm’s ambitions by naming Clifford Chance Pünder and Lovells as his main competitors.
Kerr, his chief executive, feels that with the addition of Munich the firm now has offices in Europe’s major markets, but he remains ambitious, announcing: “We’re not going to stop at Munich.”