Paul Hastings secures German merger

US firm Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker has bagged desirable German independent firm Smeets Haas Wolff in Frankfurt, concluding the US firm’s long search for a suitable merger partner in Germany.

Twenty-seven German lawyers will join the US firm and Smeets Haas’s five partners will join the partnership’s equity on 3 January 2008, concluding five months of negotiations.

Paul Hastings chairman Seth Zachary said: “We’ve been looking for an opportunity in Germany for some time and we are delighted with this one.”

The two firms have several large mutual clients such as Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Scotland, GE and Deutsche Bank.

Smeets Haas was set up in 2001 by a group of associates from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Hengeler Mueller, who had followed their lifelong dream of opening an independent firm.

Partner Peter Smeets, who will head up the merged Frankfurt office, said: “Our business has changed more dramatically than I would have ever believed. I assumed [in 2001] that we were a firm that would fly under the radar, but we are now in toughest competition with firms like Freshfields and A&O. In light of our ambitions, there was no other choice but merging.”

Smeets added: “It may be possible for corporate to remain independent in Germany, but banking is global and Frankfurt has lost [out to London].”

Around 75 per cent of Smeets Haas’ income now comes through London. In July 2007 Paul Hastings lost the German desk of its London office, after five lawyers left to set up their own firm with offices in Munich and London.

Smeets Haas Wolff’s turnover was around €12m (£8.6m) last year and average profit per partner was around €1.4m (£1m).