US partners stage Moscow retreat

SENIOR US partners are pulling out of Russia amid strenuous denials of plans to close Moscow offices.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld Moscow managing partner Michael Waller is the third senior US lawyer to have relocated to London from the Russian capital in the past two months.

Kevin Dent, now managing partner at the London office of Texan firm Baker & Botts, relocated earlier this year. Natural resources expert Douglas Glass of Texan firm Vinson & Elkins has also made the move.

Sources in Moscow suggest Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy has suffered since the Allen & Overy and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom poaching sprees in 1996. The firm's managing partner in Moscow, Holly Nielsen, has returned to New York to have a child.

Moscow-based lawyers are watching what has being labelled the US hibernation phenomenon with interest. Any suggestion that the firms' commitment to Russia might be in question is being strenuously denied. However, it is clear there is not a lot of work around at the moment, and there is a feeling that things could get worse.

A source at one of the US firms says: “There has been a huge downturn in business activity, although there is enormous potential for the future.

“In the short term, senior partners have found themselves effectively frozen and under-utilised.”