Shearman makes its Deutsche mark

Firm promises ‘elite’ operation in Germany – that’ll be smaller then

Shearman & Sterling has never had the easiest of times in Europe. Even the US firm’s biggest fans would admit its history in Europe has been rocky at times.

Over the years numerous partners have come and gone as Shearman tried to keep pace with the ever-growing competition. “Bobbing along,” is how one source close to the firm puts it.

The truth is that Shearman has been losing money in Germany for years. And its ambitions to build a premier German M&A practice have been hamstrung by the own-goal of having built too broad a base in the country and the bad luck of the wider economic climate.

Cue last week’s shock announcement that it is to close down two-thirds of its German office network. Shearman has decided to put all of its Teutonic eier in one Frankfurt-based korb and is pulling the plug on its offices in Düsseldorf and Munich. Munich is the US firm’s smaller German office, with two partners, while Düsseldorf has around half a dozen.

The party line is that this is all part of a brave new world under Shearman’s new leadership, put in place last year.

The unspoken implication is that the previous management took its eye off the European ball, but now, with senior partner (and former Europe head) Creighton Condon, global managing partner Dave Beveridge and regional managing partner for Europe Nick Buckworth in situ, the firm is hoping to put a new, slimline structure in place in Germany.

Elsewhere on the Continent Shearman sources confirmed last week that the firm had no plans to close any other offices such as Paris and Brussels or its two Italian outposts, Milan and Rome.

As Buckworth tells The Lawyer, “In effect we’re creating a new Shearman & Sterling in Germany, with elite but smaller teams which will allow us to execute on high-end cross-border transactions in Europe. We’re totally committed to the German market and we’re proud of our history there.”

The plan to be a top-notch player in European and German M&A remains. The majority of the lawyers in Düsseldorf and Munich do not.