Clifford Chance advances on Frankfurt

In the first major breakthrough by a UK firm into the German legal world, Clifford Chance's Frankfurt office has poached 11 lawyers, including three partners, from the Frankfurt office of one of Germany's leading law firms.

The defectors from Wessing Berenberg-Gossler Zimmerman Lange, include Bernhard von Braunschweig, ex-managing partner of the national management committee, respected software licensing partner Thomas Heymann and partner Heinrich von Mettenheim.

The move is seen as something of a coup since Clifford Chance and its City rivals in Frankfurt have long been trying to recruit German partners without great success.

Clifford Chance opened its Frankfurt office in 1989 jointly with German firm Gleiss Lutz Hootz Hirsch & Partners but the alliance broke up early in 1993. US firm White and Case pulled out in 1994 and Slaughter and May shut its Frankfurt office last year. Linklaters & Paines had to form a joint venture office with a German partner late last year after failing to expand on its own. Allen & Overy and Freshfields are still battling to expand in the city.

The Wessings lawyers, specialists in IT and telecommunications, will join on 1 October. Jan ter Haar, a partner at the Clifford Chance office, said the 11, together with a planned half dozen other German recruits, most straight from law school, would bring the office's current total of 23 lawyers, including five partners, to at least 40 by the end of the year.

Von Braunschweig, joining as a consultant, said the 11 had decided to leave because “we have been particularly busy in our field and we thought it would be a good move to go to a real global firm”.

But remaining partner Gustav Lange said two of the 11 had left because they were unhappy with the direction Wessings had taken after it swallowed their firm four years ago.

One Frankfurt lawyer said: “This is a good move for Clifford Chance. I don't know of any poaching of German lawyers on this scale before.”

But he added: “In the long term there's no guarantee this is going to be a success. It's a hard task to integrate such a large group of German lawyers into a totally different culture.”