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Divided we fall – Sidley Austin announces review of Frankfurt office following partner departures

Europe’s largest and one of its most highly divided economies, Germany has put many law firms’ strategy to the test and today (25 February) Sidley Austin announced that it has placed its Frankfurt office under review following a number of partner departures.

The Global 100 top 15 firm’s announcement – which follows the decision by Shearman & Sterling last year to close its Dusseldorf and Munich offices and consolidate its efforts in Frankfurt, as Latham & Watkins also last May announced the launch of a further German office in Dusseldorf – comes after Sidley tax partner Werner Geisselmeier left for Pinsent Masons’ Munich office in December last year, leaving the office with only one partner.

The remaining partner is Jens Rinze, a capital markets specialist working alongside three lawyers. At its peak, the office had 20 fee earners.

George Petrow, a London partner and member of the management and executive committee, said in a statement: ‘We are reviewing a number of alternatives in relation to our four-lawyer Frankfurt office and are seeking the solution that will best serve the interests of our clients and staff.’

Frankfurt is Sidley’s only office in Germany, opening in 2006 under the direction of Rinze and fellow capital markets partner Oliver Kessler. Regional managing partner Kessler left the firm to join German firm Oppenhoff & Partner in October 2012, and was followed to its Frankfurt office by Sidley corporate partner Jerome Freidrich in June last year.

Germany has proved to be a difficult market for US firms, with its de-centralised economy meaning that elite firms find it difficult to operate with less than three offices. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for example, has six, while Germany’s largest firm, CMS Hasche Sigle, is present in nine cities.

Frankfurt, where Herbert Smith Freehills announced it is to open a new office in February, is the recognised financial hub, but other than Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Börse, there are no other DAX 30 members headquartered in the city.

Latham’s launch in Dusseldorf last May, meanwhile, was driven by the fact it is one of the world’s major industrial centres and a hub a manufacturing.

For further, detailed analysis of the German legal market see How the dust settles – Germany’s profession is forever changed but singular still