Birds of a feather

Now that Bird & Bird has arrived in the country, Finland’s legal sector has the chance to show it can keep company with the big boys.

Birds of a feather Their people may be known as some of the quietest in Europe, but the Finnish legal market has had plenty to shout about over the past 10 months.

Not much known for hosting international firms, White & Case was before 2008 the only non-Finnish firm to enter Helsinki – and that was back in 1992.

So it was major news when Bird & Bird announced in March this year that it would be merging with Fennica Attorneys to create Bird & Bird Attorneys.

Bird & Bird, which picked up the Best International Firm prize at this year’s The Lawyer Awards, had already moved into the region’s market by launching its first Nordic office in Sweden in 2007.

It’s prize in Finland, however, was a new kid on the block, as Fennica was only founded in 1999. Bird & Bird Attorneys is Finland’s sixth-largest law firm with 36 lawyers, of whom nine are partners. The firm operates a full service but is traditionally known for its work in the telecommunications and IT sectors, although that looks set to change as it becomes fully integrated with Bird & Bird’s international and full service culture.

Bird & Bird Attorneys’ clients include global technology companies Xerox and SAP, as well as Finnish broadband and mobile network provider Elisa.

A good match

Jori Taipale, previously managing partner of Fennica and now head of the new Bird & Bird Finnish operation, has spent the past six months integrating the lawyers with their new masters, and is pleased with the progress to date.

“What we hoped for in advance has come to pass – culturally we are a good match,” says Taipale. “We have completed most of the work of working with clients and our lawyers to integrate the businesses. Our goals now are to fully exploit the international resources and encourage international clients to use our firm.”

The deal stirred a traditionally sedate Finnish legal market and sparked interest from other firms in Finland, such as Roschier, Hannes Snellman and Castrén & Snellman. 2008 will also be remembered for a smaller merger between Attorneys-at-Law Juridia and Heinonen & Co, now known as Juridia, which from 1 April created a firm with a turnover of around e8.4m (£6.63m).

However, it was the Bird & Bird move that stirred the firms at the higher end of the market. Tomas Lindholm, senior partner and chairman of the board at Nordic firm Roschier, describes the Bird & Bird-Fennica deal as “interesting”.

“It appears to be a good match,” says Lindholm. “Both firms have an strong outlook on technology – to what extent they can go beyond IT and IP remains to be seen. I welcome these moves. It alerts other players in the market, raises standards and is a sign that Finnish firms are highly developed.”

Since the merger, Bird & Bird has made lateral hires to boost its Nordic IP team, hiring four lawyers across Sweden and ­Finland. The firm’s Swedish office raided IP ­boutique Gozzo for partner Giovanni Gozzo, as well as senior lawyers Ragnar Lundgren and Orjan Grunden.

Meanwhile in Finland, Bird & Bird ­Attorneys hired associate Ella Mikkola from Swedish firm Hannes Snellman, and Hanna Seppänen, a former in-house lawyer at pharmaceutical company Orion, who joined as a partner in the firm’s sciences team.

Taipale says Finnish law firms had done well overall in the past, but concedes that their visibility has not been good on the global stage.

“The nature of the work has changed. For the first six months of the calendar year there was a lot of work across all practice areas, but now many firms – including Bird & Bird Attorneys – are seeing private equity and capital markets being put on hold. M&A remains active, especially in the industrial market,” says Taipale.

Taipale is expecting to see this year’s turnover break the e10m (£7.9m) mark – up from e9.7m (£7.66m) in 2006-07. (The firm used to run a calendrical financial year, but will line up with Bird & Bird’s April year-end from now on.)

“Banking is in good shape, but we are waiting for the second wave of the crisis to have a negative impact on exports, and a rise in unemployment will cause problems,” warns Taipale, adding: “Some firms will benefit. Those that can adapt and be flexible will be okay.”

Swedish integration

Bird & Bird Attorneys is hoping to emulate the success of other Finnish firms by fully integrating with its parent firm’s Swedish office, which opened its doors in 2001.

The financial holy grail of Scandinavia, a Stockholm office has in recent years been increasingly seen as essential for mid-market firms looking to spread their wings outside the Finnish market. Swedish is spoken as a second language by most Finns, and there is a natural levitation towards the Nordic financial hub.

“Sweden is like a home market for Finnish firms,” explains Taipale. “The biggest companies are joint ventures between Swedish and Finnish

As part of the Bird & Bird umbrella, the ex-Fennica lawyers have the opportunity to join Roschier and Hannes Snellman in the Swedish market – both of whom have entered the market with aplomb. Roschier, which opened up in Stockholm in 2005 with the hire of Mannheimer Swartling partner Axel Calissendorf (see special report, page 23), currently has 55 lawyers in the country, and the plan has been seen as a big success – not least by Taipale who admits it was “a great move”.

Joining Taipale’s Bird & Bird in trying to emulate Roschier’s success is Hannes
Snellman, which already has offices in St Petersburg, Kiev, Beijing and Shanghai, and in September this year announced plans to have 40 to 50 lawyers in Stockholm by the end of 2008.