Oppenhoffs in Berlin split

US firm Hogan & Hartson is poised to open in Berlin after ongoing discussions with a group of Oppenhoff & Rädler lawyers.

The group – thought to include at least 10 partners – is splitting from the firm following the merger with Linklaters & Alliance.

The team is led by media and telecoms partner Christo-ph Wagner. He is one of many senior lawyers – up to 20 per cent of Oppenhoffs’ 116 partners – who decided to quit after last month’s positive merger vote (The Lawyer, 31 July).

But Wagner is one of the few partners who is leaving because of client conflict. An Oppenhoffs insider confirms: “Christoph Wagner expects conflicts of interest between his client and the clients of the new firm of Linklaters Oppenhoffs. He has decided to work for the client and to go away from the partnership. But a lawyer who is loyal to his client is no bad thing.”

The client in question is BSkyB. Last year, Hogan & Hartson and Oppenhoffs ad-vised the media group on its first foray into the German market when it entered into an alliance with TV group Kirch. Wagner was the lead partner for Oppenhoffs.

It is also thought that Oppenhoffs Berlin senior partner Peter Raue is one of the partners in talks with Hogan & Hartson. It was initially suggested that he would retire, but sources claim that he aims to continue practising.

The office will be Hogan & Hartson’s first German operation and will significantly strengthen its European presence. It already has offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw and Moscow as well as associated offices in Paris and Prague.

Some German lawyers have observed that Berlin is an unusual market for the US firm to open in. It has neither the financial market of Frankfurt nor the industrial bases of Düsseldorf and Cologne.

But one senior German partner believes that 242-partner Hogan & Hartson “will go there because that is where Wagner is”. Berlin is also regarded as a growing centre for media work.

Partner and executive committee member David Hensler says nothing has been finalised. But he adds: “Hogan & Hartson is in serious discussions with a group of lawyers from the Berlin office of Oppenhoff & Rädler.”

Oppenhoffs declined to comment other than to confirm that a group of partners are still considering their futures. Wagner declined to comment.