Travers joins Berlin exodus while Olswang bucks the trend
Only eight weeks into 2007 and a number of firms have already reviewed their German strategies.

More than five years after launching in Berlin, Travers Smith announced that it had shut down its German operation, forcing all five of its Berlin-based lawyers to find a new home at Salans.

As first revealed on www.thelawyer. com (10 January), Travers will now operate a ’best friends’ system in Germany, as it prefers to do in most jurisdictions. It is understood that the firm has referral relationships with firms including Hengeler Mueller and Noerr Stiefenhofer Lutz.

Travers senior partner Alasdair Douglas denies that closing Germany was proof of a failed international strategy, saying: “That’s not how we see it. Opening offices around the world is not our strategy. We prefer to use best friend relationships. Germany was a one-off.”

Douglas will not comment on whether or not the Berlin office was making a profit, but does say that in private equity, corporate finance and technology, media and telecommunications the volume of work was not as high as expected.

While Travers is not alone in closing its doors on Berlin, as both Clifford Chance and Lovells closed their Berlin offices in 2005 and 2006 respectively, Olswang has not been deterred from launching in the German capital.

“The people came first and the location second. It could have been Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or even Hamburg,” says Olswang chief executive Jonathan Goldstein.

So for Travers Germany may indeed be a one-off. However, the same cannot be said for Olswang, which has overhauled dramatically its international strategy for 2007. Last November the firm announced its intention to launch its first-ever overseas office in Berlin, in conjunction with its US ally, Miami-headquartered giant Greenberg Traurig.

Goldstein says: “Our international strategy is guided by what clients want us to do. We’ve got a high-quality team that was recommended to us by clients.

“We want to build the office out into the technology and media sectors to mirror what we do in the UK.”

Real estate and M&A partner Peter Diedrich, who joined Olswang from EY Law, will manage the office. He is joined by leading Freshfields Bruckaus Deringer environment and planning partner Dieter Neumann and his former colleague, partner Cord-Henning Brandes, who left Freshfields two years ago for a local boutique.

A&O pinpoints Germany for corporate hike
With the New Year comes a spate of New Year’s resolutions. Allen & Overy (A&O) for one has revealed plans to target Germany to boost its corporate team over the coming year.

A&O managing partner David Morley outlines the firm’s strategy for 2007, singling out six key markets where growth is needed. “It’s just as important to concentrate on our current offices as it is to open new ones,” he says. “We’re not in the business of flag-planting.”

Morley, however, will not rule out a merger in those jurisdictions, particularly in Germany, where an M&A boutique would be welcomed with open arms.

Unlike other magic circle firms, A&O has not merged with a German firm, instead choosing to pursue a slow organic strategy. The firm has just 19 corporate partners in Germany compared with Clifford Chance’s 45.

CC’s, Freshfields’ Frankfurt teams suffer losses…
While some firms are busy planning their assaults on the German market, other firms have been busy recruiting – and losing – key players.

Clifford Chance’s Frankfurt office has recently seen some upheavals. Last December its Frankfurt office lost rated corporate partner Mario Schmidt, who joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Then, last month (January), Clifford Chance counsel Stephan Gitterman announced his decision to join Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, and most recently the office lost public procurement partner Lutz Horn to German firm Görg. Horn took a team of three associates with him.

Another Frankfurt office that has seen some movement is that of Freshfields. First the magic circle firm lost a three-lawyer IP team, as SJ Berwin swooped to take partner Stefan Krueger and associates Manuela Finger and Manuel Biehler. Krueger, who had been a partner at Freshfields since 2002, most recently advised Nintendo on the launch of the Wii console in Europe.

Krueger will be head of IP for SJ Berwin in Germany. The firm has a total of 85 lawyers split between its offices in Berlin and Frankfurt.

Following this the firm was raided by White & Case as partner Lutz Krämer left the magic circle firm to head White & Case’s equity capital markets offering in Frankfurt, bringing the US firm’s capital markets headcount in Frankfurt to 21, including 12 partners.

… but Freshfields’ workload keeps on growing
As 2006 turned into 2007, Freshfields’ Frankfurt office continued to feature prominently on high-profile mandates.

At the end of last year the magic circle firm bagged a lead role on Europe’s multibillion-euro bank merger. The firm laid on a four-partner team for client UniCredit on its €12.5bn (£8.32bn) purchase of Bank Austria Creditanstalt from Germany’s HypoVereinsbank (HVB), which was advised by German firm Gleiss Lutz.

The mandate came after Freshfields advised Italian bank UniCredit on its €15bn (£10.11bn) merger with HVB in June last year.

The Freshfields team was led by global corporate head Andreas Fabritius in Frankfurt, with corporate partner Eberhard Seydel in Munich. Vienna-based partners Maria Pflügl and Thomas Zottl were also on the team. Gleiss Lutz partner Gerhard Wirth led the team advising HVB.2007 looks set to be just as busy for the magic circle firm’s Frankfurt outpost, with corporate partner Matthias-Gabriel Kremer leading the team advising the Federal State of Berlin on the sale of its 81 per cent stake in Landesbank Berlin.

Pinsents seals Luther alliance
Pinsent Masons has chosen a different strategy to tackle the German market and has entered the new year having made its first bid to become an international force.

Last December the firm announced that it had formed an exclusive European alliance, called the Pinsent Masons Luther Group (PMLG), with Germany’s second-largest independent firm Luther and a number of other firms. It hopes the move will be the first step on the road to a full merger.

“This is not a referral network – it will fail if it becomes that. This has a trajectory that will lead to some sort of convergence. That’s the natural next step,” said international operations partner Tony Bunch.

Former EY Law firm Luther finally split from Ernst & Young last December. Luther, which houses 210 lawyers and has an annual turnover of £50m, joins the alliance with other EY Law firms Karasek Wietrzyk in Austria and Luther Fest & Kajli in Hungary.

The alliance will boast 360 partners and 1,300 lawyers across 33 jurisdictions and will prioritise corporate, IP/IT, competition, employment, projects/PFI and real estate as key practice areas.