Linklaters cuts adrift Cologne for focus on Düsseldorf

Linklaters has axed its Cologne office, the birthplace of German legacy firm Oppenhoff & Rädler, which Linklaters merged with in 2001.

Only around 10 of Linklaters’ 26 Cologne partners and counsel have agreed to set sail 25 miles upriver for the city of Düsseldorf to launch a new office for their firm. The rest are expected either to start their own Cologne practice or be resettled elsewhere within Linklaters’ existing German network.

The firm has invited all Cologne associates to continue working within its German network, but there has been no official confirmation on how many have taken up the offer.

German senior partner Michael Lappe said: “There are a number of partners who did not want to follow our strategic considerations.”

However, he said, all discussions have been “amicable”.

Linklaters’ entire Cologne IP and trademarks team left last year to set up its own boutique and there has been a steady trickle of defections since.

Last week, however, the firm poached the two senior Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer M&A partners Ralph Wollburg and Achim Kirchfeld, who will be heading the new Düsseldorf offering.

The new office will consist almost exclusively of corporate and M&A-supporting partners, whereas the Cologne practice included significant technology, media and telecoms, litigation, employment, environment and real estate expertise.

Lappe said the move was “completely independent of recent departures”.

He added that Linklaters had always considered opening an office further up the Rhine, but said: “Without reinforcements there would have been no urgent reason to enter Düsseldorf. Now with Herr Wollburg and Herr Kirchfeld we can enter the market much more easily.”

One of the main aims of the move is to strengthen Linklaters’ German M&A practice, as well as to be seen with a presence in what is considered a fashionable location.

Linklaters global managing partner-elect Simon Davies said: “Historically the heavy-hitters are based in Düsseldorf.

“I think business needs to look where the greatest opportunity is.”

Allen & Overy launched a Düsseldorf office in June, while German firm Beiten Burkhardt merged its Cologne practice into Düsseldorf in February.

Davies said: “A number of [Cologne] partners are already living in Düsseldorf. It’s a very short distance away: one could imagine it is similar to London and Guildford.”

A senior source close to Linklaters described “extreme unrest among younger [Linklaters] partners” and speculated that it suggests a major restructuring to boost the profits of Linklaters’ flagging regional operation.

The general atmosphere in the office is tense amid discussions and a general information embargo, although one Cologne partner who was available for comment told The Lawyer: “I don’t want to go to Düsseldorf.”