JuVe been famed

International firms are doing well in the German market, as legal magazine JuVe Rechtsmarkt's latest research shows. Aled Griffiths reports on the country's best

Antitrust Firm of the Year
Baker & McKenzie
Although Baker & McKenzie was one of the few firms not involved in E.ON's various headline deals, the firm's antitrust lawyers did have one real coup, representing leading German bakery chain Kamps during its takeover by Italian pasta giant Barilla. The win shows Baker & McKenzie's success in strengthening its antitrust practice over the past few years, with a “great young team”, as one leading antitrust competitor in Frankfurt describes it. Names turning up regularly include Jörg-Martin Schultze and Thomas Lampert, who both work closely with Baker & McKenzie's market-leading distribution and franchising lawyers.

The decision to concentrate on the domestic market, rather than building up a stronger presence of German antitrust lawyers in Brussels, has turned out to be a smart move. A consistent increase in Form-CO notifications over the past few years seems to be proof of this success. If the firm manages to consolidate and develop the potential of the German practice within the worldwide competition group, its further ascendancy in its home country will be assured.

Corporate Firm of the Year
Hengeler Mueller

If the chasing pack of law firms thought that the last year would finally see the dominance of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler Mueller toppled, then these plans have had to be put on ice. The fact that Hengeler is still seen as leading the field in non-transactional corporate law is not surprising, but singling out the firm as JuVe's Corporate Firm of the Year is based on its ability to confound the sceptics who saw its market position weakening. Indeed, the past year of recession has seen Hengeler picked out by leading corporates for bet-your-company restructurings and highly significant squeeze-outs. What has impressed observers is how the firm has been called in by either new clients or by those that had wandered off to other firms for particular work over the past few years – Vodafone being the most obvious example. But it might be the case that the last year's events only reflect client behaviour during a recession – and that other firms will start to make ground again once the deal market picks up. Until then, Hengeler's position is secure.

Banking and Finance Firm of the Year
Allen & Overy

Some might argue that it was only a matter of time before one of the world's most powerful finance practices established itself in Germany, so the massive improvement in market position of Allen & Overy (A&O) ought to be no surprise. It would be too easy to put this down to the inevitable extension of an Anglo-Saxon franchise to Frankfurt.

It is true that client relations have been exported – securitisation and derivatives have benefited in particular, especially considering the departure of one partner and a senior associate – but the success of the German banking practice lies in the ability of its indigenous lawyers to expand their own practices on the basis of individual reputations and on the remarkable recruitment success – often from in-house departments – that A&O has demonstrated in the past two years.

Those that stand out are Johannes Bruski, Peter Stenz and Neil Weiand. The first two cover a wide range of products, while Weiand has made an extraordinary impression on debt finance over the past year.

In Okko Behrends, the firm has a highly-rated younger partner in securitisation and, not before time, the firm has managed to build up a second generation of lawyers, for example Wolfgang Melzer, in asset finance.

Even the departures of, among others, Peter Hein to New York and Heather McCallum to London are seen as confirmation of the fact that A&O's German practice is more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

The A&O banking practice in Germany is far less dependent on London and far more on its indigenous partners than anyone would have suspected a few years ago. Keeping this bunch happy will be vital for the firm.

Insolvency and Restructuring Firm of the Year
Haarmann Hemmelrath

Lawyers at Haarmann Hemmelrath have long felt that their market profile in the restructuring field could be higher. In 2002, the firm's potential was realised: it advised major corporates, including acting for the banks in the creditor pool for the high-profile Holzmann and Brokat insolvencies.

Haarmann's chief strength is its clear structure. The teams around Michael Thierhoff (Leipzig) and Thomas Illy (Frankfurt) are individually organised according to the demands of each case, with all the necessary multidisciplinary expertise under one roof. The firm boasts practical experience in insolvency administration as well as a team of lawyers, accountants, tax advisers and management consultants with a strong focus on restructuring. The major competitive advantage is therefore its multidisciplinary status. A number of clients commented on its ability to work throughout Germany without the friction that results when several competing firms handle a case together.

Intellectual Property/Patents Firm of the Year
Vossius & Partners

This firm has often been seen as a trendsetter in patent law, an area which in Germany is traditionally dominated by patent attorneys rather than lawyers. Vossius was one of the first to establish its own registration practice for the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, thus producing one of the foremost mixed practices in the country. Today, the team of patent lawyers around Hans-Rainer Jaenichen is certainly among the leading practices in biotech.

Lawyers at other litigation and registration practices were impressed by the timely hiring of Johann Pitz, an experienced patent litigator from Wessing's Düsseldorf office, thus strengthening the firm's roots in the other essential jurisdictions in Germany besides Munich. One well-known patent lawyer in Munich even went as far to say: “If Vossius's model proves successful, the patent market in Germany will be completely transformed.”

Until now, Bardehle Pagenberg Dost Altenburg Geissler was the only patents firm to handle litigation exclusively with its own lawyers. Vossius has now become the second firm to deal a blow to the accepted principle that patent registration and litigation practices should remain separated.

Real Estate Firm of the Year
Linklaters Oppenhoff & Rädler

Having previously lost a number of partners, particularly from its Berlin office, the firm's real estate practice has emerged stronger and more competitive from a period of consolidation.

Thanks to strategic restructuring, Linklaters has succeeded in making a name for itself in the past two years with a number of high-volume real estate transactions. Particularly noteworthy was the sale of the Trianon tower block for DekaBank and the sale of two real estate portfolios for Swisscom, both handled by a team led by Hans-Dieter Schulz-Gebeltzig, Peter Gamon (Frankfurt), Wolfram Pätzold (Munich), Hans-Josef Busch (Cologne) and Jens Bock (Berlin). Synergies in international work and cross-border work are making themselves felt, for example, in its advice to Hercules Inc, ITT Industries and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Litigation/Arbitration Firm of the Year
Gleiss Lutz

Following the move of Stefan Rützel to Gleiss Lutz from Freshfields and the firm's professed intention to establish a separate litigation practice, one of Germany's leading litigators was forthright in his judgement, saying: “A new player is about to make its entry into the market.”

Since July last year, Rützel, together with Detlef Schmidt, Martin Schockenhoff and Bettina Friedrich (also from Freshfields) has been assembling the practice group, which brings together litigation work in corporate, trade, banking, and capital markets. Rützel, who brought his client EM TV with him, and Friedrich will be the only lawyers working exclusively in litigation, while the other partners will continue with advisory work. The practice group will be active in litigation before state courts and in arbitration proceedings. Gleiss's close connection with Herbert Smith was a decisive factor in setting up its own practice group in this area and, with other German offices seeing their litigation practices boosted by the link to powerful London teams, Gleiss can expect much from the Herbert Smith connection.

M&A Firm of the Year
Clifford Chance Pünder

Ever since Clifford Chance's merger with Pünder, observers have tended to focus on the firm's finance practice in Germany, which has indeed expanded rapidly. The past year has demonstrated, however, that the corporate team is beginning to fulfil its considerable potential. Success is built on a number of factors: first and foremost the combination of a blossoming Düsseldorf practice together with strong investment bank contacts in Frankfurt, but also a clear industry focus and strategic business development throughout the international offices. There is still some way to go before Clifford Chance Pünder can challenge the market leaders outright, but considering that the synergies with its large US practice have barely been explored, the past year's achievements have unsettled several competitors.

Klaus Grossmann, Thomas Stohlmeier, Alfred Herda and Rolf Giebeler stand out in Düsseldorf. Frankfurt boasts Andreas Dietzel, Wolfgang Richter, Thomas Gasteyer and Daniela Weber-Rey as well as rising star Johannes Perlitt. And although Munich is often underestimated, the arrival of Volker Kullmann is a notable reinforcement.

Private Equity and Venture Capital Firm of the Year
CMS Hasche Sigle

Considering that CMS Hasche Sigle is one of the few market leaders in buyout work which refuses to advise parallel bidders in auctions, the firm's rise to prominence is particularly notable. It has one of the market's largest practices with sizeable groups for venture capital, mid-sized buyout work and leveraged buyouts, and the exclusive relationship to BC Partners, primarily through Udo Simmat in Stuttgart, means that the firm is nearly always involved at some stage in every major German transaction. The firm continues to be best known for its 3i relationship, the bedrock of which is Christoph Schücking in Frankfurt. Martin Bell is also highly regarded.

What is most impressive for many outsiders is the manner in which nearly every one of Hasche's offices is heavily involved in the private equity/venture capital practice, demonstrating that the integration and management over the past two years has unlocked the potential of the individual activities. Stephan Müller retains an outstanding reputation for venture capital work in Munich and Christian von Lenthe heads the Hamburg practice. So, are there any gaps? Most definitely – an acquisition finance practice that can cut it with the market leaders.

Management Team of the Year
CMS Hasche Sigle

Only two years ago, the firm was seen as a disparate group of offices, which was the result of a succession of mergers that had not been fully integrated. The offices around the country had different remuneration systems, ranging from lockstep in Hamburg and a quota system in Munich to merit-based systems in Stuttgart and Frankfurt. Many imagined that the firm would suffer heavily from departures, be it due to tempting offers from elsewhere or to resistance to management interference.

The credit for the firm not just remaining intact, but making a marked improvement in performance with a turnover of around €120m (£80.3m) in 2001, is often given to the 10-strong partnership council and its head Cornelius Brandi. His form of consensus management relies on allowing the partnership to motivate itself by setting and attaining realistic goals rather than conceiving unattainable strategic aims. The maritime lawyer was re-elected to another three-year term of office this year. His own practice area, which is hardly a focus in other major German firms, reflects the strong emphasis on full service within Hasche.

But major challenges lie ahead. Achieving consensus on the degree of international integration within the CMS network will be a demanding process, and despite the strong increase in turnover, it is difficult to imagine that Hasche will not have to address its profitability, which lags behind its major competitors. Higher leverage seems inevitable, and it will take all those persuasive skills of Brandi to lead the firm in what is a vital next stage of development in Germany.

Boutique Firm of the Year
Becker Büttner Held

Becker Büttner Held (BBH) used to be a name for insiders, but since last year, the energy boutique is now known beyond a narrow group of specialists. Its success in stopping the ministerial licence for the E.ON-Ruhrgas merger, albeit temporarily, was widely reported and, it seems, no fluke.

Energy lawyers have known the firm since the early 1990s, when it advised more than 100 East German local utility companies in a landmark case. Since then it has built a reputation for advising regional utilities, energy traders and energy producers. Opponents, mostly from the leading commercial firms in Germany, demonstrate a marked respect for BBH's court work, with one describing the firm as “dangerous and highly diligent”.

For the headline antitrust case of last year, BBH lawyer Peter Becker acted for Aachen and Rosenheim utilities, while Ines Zenke and Stefanie Neveling at BBH acted for Trianel, both protesting against the E.ON-Ruhrgas merger. The latter two are regarded as highly promising young lawyers, demonstrating BBH's ability to recruit, train and maintain excellent graduates, despite its niche practice. Competitors point admiringly to the broad-based quality of the firm, which has long not had to rely solely on older rainmakers.

• The JuVe Rechtsmarkt Handbook has been published in Germany for the past five years. It is based on extensive research in the German market by a team of 12 journalists and is delivered to 11,000 clients and 7,000 lawyers in private practice. The current issue, which came out at the end of 2002, contained awards for each area of law. These denote firms which have made a particularly strong impact on the market, according to the clients and lawyers.