International report: Smeets Haas Wolff, Frankfurt

Managing partner: Peter Smeets
Turnover: £6.5m
Total number of partners: 4
Total number of lawyers: 36
Main practice areas: Acquisition finance, asset and media finance, private equity and M&A, project finance, real estate and tax
Key clients: Deutsche Bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau, Morgan Stanley and Permira.
Number of offices: One
Location: Frankfurt

In the five years since its was set up, Smeets Haas Wolff has witnessed impressive growth. From its humble beginning with three partners and no secretary, the Frankfurt firm now boasts a team of 36 lawyers, a turnover that is expected to reach €6.5m (£4.4m) at the end of this year, and enough secretaries for everyone.

Smeets Haas Wolff was set up by a group of associates from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler Mueller. For chief executive and founding member Peter Smeets it was the realisation of a life-long dream. “I had the idea of setting up an independent law firm about 20 years ago,” says Smeets.

Along with his two other founding members – Hergen Haas and Christopher Wolff – Smeets set about getting a business plan in place that included projections for fee income and long-term achievements. A fourth partner, Jochen Scheel, joined in 2004 from the Mannheim office of Shearman & Sterling.

For a small firm, it has a more clearly defined management model than most, including a chief financial officer, an operations manager and a chief executive officer. “We’re lawyers but we’re also a company and we have an entrepreneurial approach to our business,” says Smeets.

The decision to set up as an independent was a brave one as the three lawyers had just nine years of qualified experience between them. However, Smeets says that all of his clients followed him from Freshfields, where he was a member of the media asset finance group.

The recruitment and career development of its lawyers is one of the key concerns for the firm. Smeets says that every year the firm sends three to four of its young lawyers on secondment to clients. The firm also has links with the top universities and every year invites students on work experience, with an eye to hiring the best. “It’s important for the future that we get the best young lawyers in our firm,” says Smeets.

Smeets Haas Wolff offers advice in six areas: acquisition finance, asset and media finance, private equity and M&A, project finance, real estate and tax law.

The firm’s high-profile client list includes private equity house Permira, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Commerzbank and German development agency Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau.

This year has been one of the busiest yet for Smeets Haas Wolff. It has almost tripled in size, growing from 12 lawyers to 35. And each of its four partners can expect a profit per equity partner of €1m (£678,000). “That’s equal to Freshfields,” Smeets points out.

And the growth does not stop there. In the next 12 months Smeets wants to open an office in Hamburg and further develop its best friends relationships with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Denton Wilde Sapte.

Smeets explains: “Its not enough to just give good advice, you also have to have a good business model.”