Linklaters-Schon Nolte split looms

Linklaters is close to splitting from its Frankfurt joint venture partner Schon Nolte Finkelnburg & Clemm in a move that would clear the way for a tie-up with leading German firm Oppenhoff & RAdler.

Although Oppenhoff partners voted two weeks ago on co-operation with Linklaters, the firm is remaining tight-lipped about the result.

A source suggested that co-operation had been approved in principle, but only if certain conditions are met by the UK firm.

Other sources say one objection Oppenhoff has is the fact that Linklaters is effectively practising German law by having a joint venture with Schon Nolte in Frankfurt. A split from Schon Nolte would remove this obstacle to a deal and Frankfurt lawyers are expecting an announcement of a split within a few weeks.

The Frankfurt joint venture had in any case never been particularly successful, with reports of personality and culture clashes between the two sides and a resulting lack of focus.

Schon Nolte partner Christian Edye would not be drawn on the future of the office: “We have no comment. That is where we are at the moment.”

The Hamburg-based firm is, however, known to be keen on continuing in Frankfurt with or without Linklaters.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Linklaters would only say that the office was “operational” and its relationship with Schon “ongoing”.

It is understood Linklaters is not looking to join the Alliance of European Lawyers, of which Oppenhoff is a member, but is seeking to “co-operate” with some members of the Alliance separately.

Linklaters has seen Freshfields and Clifford Chance steal a march on them in developing European practices and began talks with several of the six members of the Alliance as a result.

But French member Jeantet & Associes is not keen on a tie-up. Linklaters already practises French law in Paris, in competition with Jeantet.

In addition, Linklaters' Paris office was at the forefront of campaigning in the early 1990s for foreign firms to practise French law.