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Freshfields plans to cut German partnership by up to 20% by 2020

Almost two decades after its flagship three way merger, Legal Business can reveal Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is planning to cut its 103 strong German partnership by up to 20 partners by 2020.

Following an ongoing process, a paper called ‘Germany 2020’ was produced in 2016. The document outlined the firm’s plans to reduce the country’s partnership numbers with a German partnership conference of the same name was held in spring that year to relay the message. The firm aims to have the country’s partnership sitting between 80 and 90.

Partners Legal Business spoke with said the plan was to establish more international practices and step away from local work.

One former partner said: ‘It’s been an ongoing thing since the merger with Bruckhaus. Bruckhaus is just so huge relative to what was actually needed. There’s always been a bit of tension there.’

Another former partner added: ‘It’s a more significant number because there are going to be promotions in there too. It isn’t just a net subtraction of partners, it’s a higher number because you can’t stop promotions – that would kill the whole business.

‘There has been push back lately because Germany has become more profitable and Brexit uncertainty suggests you might want a bigger presence on the continent. There are factions in the firm. It’s a fairly hot topic right now.’

Helmut Bergmann, DACEE (Germany, Austria, central and eastern Europe) regional managing partner said: ‘Our German business is performing well and we have every confidence that this will continue. Its integration and engagement with the broader firm is both pleasing and as anticipated.

Bergmann (pictured) added: ‘As with any firm, changes naturally occur in our partnership through retirements and promotions; we have an outstanding pool of talented lawyers that will cement our partnership group over the coming years and collectively add value for our clients in Germany and globally.’

In 2015 it emerged Freshfields planned to close its Cologne office, with the bulk of its staff transferring to the firm’s existing Düsseldorf outpost. The transition began last year, with the firm planning to find a new location in Düsseldorf by 2018, allowing two-years for the initial transition phase.

The firm promoted four German based partners in this year’s round and three in 2016. Freshfields also promoted Düsseldorf based disputes lawyer Thomas Helck to counsel.

In the past 18 months exits from the German practice include Berlin based Pascal Friton, Anna Huttenlauch, Max Class and Roland Stein who spun-off to establish boutique law firm Blomstein. Munich-based corporate partner Ferdinand Fromholzer left for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Cologne based M&A partner Oliver von Rosenberg left for GÖRG Lawyers and Hamburg based regulatory partner Michael Schäfer left for Chatham partners.

Cologne partner Hartmut Nitschke, Hamburg based real estate partner Christian Reichmuth and competition partner Burkhard Richter in Dusseldorf have also left the firm.

Last week it emerged Allen & Overy (A&O) had opted not to make changes to its German lockstep after the Magic Circle firm began consultations last September to discuss potential amendments. It was proposed A&O would introduce an informal 40-point top of the lockstep, halting progress to the firm’s global 50 cap.