Brief encounter: oppenhoff & rädler

The deal is done. From 1 January 2001 Oppenhoff & Rädler will be known within Germany as Linklaters Oppenhoff & Rädler. The move was confirmed when the partners voted in favour of merging with Linklaters at the end of July.

Oppenhoffs formed an alliance with Linklaters in early 1998, and in May 1999 elected Markus Hartung as managing partner, appointed a new management board and a new administration system. Control of its four offices in Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich and Cologne was replaced by a centralised system run from Frankfurt.

But the merger has already had its fair share of problems. A number of lawyers, including telecoms partner Christoph Wagner and Berlin's senior partner Peter Raue, are moving to US firm Hogan & Hartson, where they will set up an office in Berlin.

Oppenhoffs' response has been strategic. Rapid expansion is at the heart of its strategy, and it is quoting ambitious targets to recruit more than 100 new associates in the next 18 months. Oppenhoffs wants to counter its bias towards M&A and capital markets and offer a full service. Two thirds of the recruits will work in M&A and corporate but the rest will bolster the tax, real estate, intellectual property, IT and litigation practices.

The return to a prominent position in the M&A market is due partly to its relationship with Linklaters, but is also because it remains a multidisciplinary practice. M&A deals often include finding new tax structures, and without the tax practice, M&A would not have been so successful.

The firm's work ranges from regional Mittelstand work to acting for some of the biggest corporations in the world, including Mannesmann. It is also recommended for complex litigation work and acts for major banks in Munich. Litigation has been profitable because it has tended to concentrate on complex cross-border cases, for which it has set up a task force for its global clients.

Areas of potential change include privet client work and the US angle. Oppenhoffs is one of the few large German firms to advise individuals – particularly artists and athletes – but this could change when Peter Raue leaves. It has also advised a number of international companies on potential bids for German companies.

The firm has been successful in becoming one of the leading German firms for initial public offerings, but it needs a bigger US capacity. Managing partner Hartung wants to recruit German lawyers who have had US experience.

Hartung estimates that the annual turnover for the year 2000 will exceed DM200m (£61m), a 50 per cent increase since 1995. Profits per partner have increased at a similar rate.

The Linklaters-Oppenhoffs integration presents the usual difficulties. The departure of Wagner and his team will leave a gap in Berlin, but Oppenhoffs is making a huge effort to rebuild the practice. IP partner Andreas Lubberger and five associates are moving from Frankfurt and the firm is currently recruiting. Berlin, rather than Frankfurt, will be the testing ground for the firm.