Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper and Dentons have taken a different course to most international law firms, separating from their Russia practices and leaving independent firms behind, rather than closing the offices entirely as a response to Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine.
All three firms operate under a Swiss verein structure, which enables the different offices to maintain financial and regulatory independence from one another and allows for quick mergers and demergers.
Dentons announced its intentions on Monday (14 March). The Moscow and St Petersburg offices, which collectively employ over 250 people, will ‘operate as an independent law firm’, according to the firm’s latest statement.
‘This is a difficult decision which we have taken in full consultation with our colleagues in Russia in order to continue meeting our legal and ethical obligations’, said Elliott Portnoy, global chief exec of Dentons. ‘Our hope is that at a future time we will be able to come back together when it is lawfully and practically possible to do so.’
In a statement also issued on Monday, DLA said: ‘In light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis, and our consequent decision not to act for clients connected to the Russian state, we have concluded that maintaining a presence in Russia is not aligned with our values and therefore no longer viable.
‘Accordingly, after 17 years in the country, we are withdrawing from our operations and will no longer have DLA Piper offices in Moscow and St Petersburg. Our intention is to transfer the Russian business to our team there. We will ensure an orderly transition in accordance with our legal and professional obligations to both our clients and our people.’
Baker McKenzie, which in 2004 was the first major firm to become a Swiss verein, followed suit on Tuesday (15 March), stating: ‘After 33 years operating in the country, Baker McKenzie’s current Russia operations, across both Moscow and St Petersburg, will become an independent law firm.
‘We have made this difficult decision following ongoing consultation with our multinational clients, whose urgent on-the-ground legal needs we are serving, as well as careful consideration of the wellbeing of our many people in the wider region.’
Elsewhere, Clifford Chance and A&O followed the lead of magic circle peers Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters in announcing their intention to close their Moscow offices.
CC, which houses 33 lawyers in Moscow according to its website, said in a statement last Thursday (10 March): ‘Following our earlier announcements condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and our position on Russia related work, we have decided to progress our steps for an orderly wind down of our operations in Moscow.
‘Our priorities are to focus on the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues during this difficult time and on ensuring the winding down of our services is consistent with our legal and professional responsibilities to our clients and our responsible business principles and values.’
Also on Thursday, A&O confirmed that it ‘is to wind down its Moscow office, which will be managed in line with all legal, regulatory and professional obligations. This was not an easy decision to make as we have 55 people there and we needed to make sure that we could take this action with their best welfare in mind. We are very grateful for their hard work over many years.’
White & Case became the latest US-headquartered firm to leave the region. A statement said that after careful consideration’, the firm was in the process of ‘winding down’ its operations in Russia.