Differences force Belgians and Swiss to leave Punder Group

Five-firm pan-European federation the Punder Group has lost its Belgian and Swiss members after a “strategic review” revealed differences of opinion over the speed at which the group should integrate.

Belgian top five Coppens Van Ommeslaghe & Faures, based in Brussels, wanted rapid progress towards integration while Zurich-based 11-lawyer Stoffel & Partner wanted to concentrate on servicing its US clients.

The remaining German, Austrian and French firms – Frankfurt-based Punder Volhard Weber & Axster, Vienna-based Cerha Hempel & Spiegelfeld and Paris-based De Pardieu Brocas Maffei & Associes – agreed in principle to proceed with further integration but were more cautious over the timescale.

A sixth member, Dutch firm Buruma Maris, left last year in an aborted attempt to merge with Benelux giant Loeff Claeys Verbeke.

Coppens originally joined the group because it wanted to merge with Dutch and French firms. Coppens partner Jean-Michel Detry said the Dutch firm's departure and the lack of progress towards at least partial financial integration had prompted his firm's decision to leave the group.

“You can't be engaged forever, especially when the fragility of the arrangement is exposed every time a nice lady passes by,” he said.

He added: “We worked in the Punder Group on the assumption that it would at least partially integrate itself by the year 2000.”

He said Coppens, which hosts the joint Brussels office of the group, wished to unite the EC law practices of all the firms but was blocked by Buruma Maris and Punder.

Dr Thomas Gasteyer, managing partner of Punder Volhard, said the remaining three members would concentrate on integrating their capital markets and mergers and acquisitions practice groups.

He said: “The market requires further concentration and integration.” However, he conceded that the steps to achieve such integration had yet to be agreed.