Akin Gump, Latham & Watkins and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer are among the latest international firms to shut down or suspend operations in Moscow, as pressure to take action has mounted in light of Russia’s sustained invasion of Ukraine.
The news came after Linklaters and Norton Rose Fulbright announced their intentions to withdraw from Moscow in recent days.
As a firm with such strong ties to Russia, Akin Gump’s decision to suspend operations in the region has been particularly striking. In a statement issued on Wednesday (9 March), the firm said: ‘As a firm built by Robert Strauss, the last US Ambassador to the Soviet Union and the first US Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Akin Gump is deeply saddened and shocked by the events in Ukraine and the tragic and senseless loss of life of so many innocent Ukrainians.
‘In light of the ongoing crisis, we are suspending operations in Moscow pending further developments. We will do so in an orderly way, as the safety and well-being of our long-time colleagues and ethical obligations to clients in Moscow remain a high priority.’
Latham also took action this week. In a statement issued on Wednesday, chair and managing partner Rich Trobman said: ‘The firm will immediately begin an orderly transition, consistent with our ethical duties to our clients, to wind down operations in Moscow. During this process our focus will be principally on the safety and well-being of our colleagues in Russia.’
Elsewhere, Freshfields said in a statement: ‘We are announcing today that we will close our office in Moscow. We have been present in Moscow for 30 years and we are very conscious of the impact this news will have on our valued colleagues in Russia. However, in light of the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine, and the clear stance we have taken on Russia-related work, we believe that this is the right course of action.’
Meanwhile, Cleary Gottlieb stated that it would ‘temporarily close’ the Moscow office, ‘pending further developments’. The firm also said that it would be ‘continuing to support’ staff based in the city, but did not elaborate further on what this would entail.
Thursday (10 March) saw Herbert Smith Freehills follow the growing number of peers in intending to abandon the region. The firm, which has one of most developed Russia offerings of any international firm, said: ‘Following a review of our Russia business, we have taken the decision to close our office in the country. We are bringing to an end any work associated with the Russian State, in-line with our legal and professional responsibilities.’
Other firms to follow suit include Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP), Squire Patton Boggs, and Eversheds Sutherland. In a statement issued on Wednesday (9 March), Squires confirmed: ‘Our closure will effectively conclude our relationship with a number of clients in adherence with our professional obligations. All other existing work or new matters we undertake on a global basis will continue to remain in full compliance with all applicable laws and sanctions that are in place.’
BCLP stated: ‘After very thorough, careful thought and consideration, BCLP is ceasing its operations in Moscow in response to Russia’s ongoing actions in Ukraine. Alongside other global businesses, the firm stands in support with the people of Ukraine. We are committed to providing support to our colleagues in Moscow and assisting with transitions. The wellbeing of our people continues to be very concerning to us, and it is difficult to part ways under such circumstances. Having been a part of BCLP since 2009, we are grateful for their dedication, friendship and contribution to our firm over the years. We will be stopping and transitioning client work in accordance with our legal and professional obligations, and will not accept mandates from state-owned entities in Russia or related individuals.’
The number of international firms yet to announce their intentions regarding Russian outposts is rapidly shrinking, and it now seems likely that the majority with a presence will shortly retrench. Firms yet to confirm they will leave Moscow include Skadden, Dentons and Baker McKenzie, all of which have well-established practices in the area.
White & Case is one firm that, at present at least, is still committed to its Russia office. A statement issued on Wednesday stated: ‘The office remains open and operational and we will provide updates when appropriate.’