Linklaters’ abandonment of its Moscow office in response to Russia’s sustained invasion of Ukraine has prompted peers to react, with many more likely set to follow suit.
Linklaters announced the move to shutter the Moscow office, which houses more than 70 lawyers, including 10 partners, on Friday (4 March). The firm said in a statement: ‘We will wind down our operations in Russia and close our Moscow office. We will continue supporting our people there in the process, doing all we can to help them transfer to new roles within Linklaters or otherwise.’
Further, the Magic Circle firm vowed: ‘We will not act for individuals or entities that are controlled by, or under the influence of, the Russian state, or connected with the current Russian regime, wherever they are in the world. We will wind down existing work in accordance with our legal and professional obligations. We will continue to assist international clients in dealing with the implications of the current crisis and in unwinding their Russian business interests.’
Similarly on Monday (7 March), Norton Rose Fullbright noted in a statement: ‘We are winding down our operations in Russia and will be closing our Moscow office as quickly as we can, in compliance with our professional obligations. The wellbeing of our staff in the region is a priority. We thank our 50 colleagues in Moscow for their loyal service and will support them through this transition.
‘Some immediate actions are possible and we are taking them. We are not accepting any further instructions from businesses, entities or individuals connected with the current Russian regime, irrespective of whether they are sanctioned or not. In addition, we continue to review exiting from existing work for them where our professional obligations as lawyers allow. Where we cannot exit from current matters, we will donate the profits from that work to appropriate humanitarian and charitable causes.’
Other firms have, thus far, stopped short of seeking to withdraw from the region entirely. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer announced that it ‘took immediate steps to terminate, suspend or decline mandates’ and that it ‘will not act for companies or individuals with close ties to the Russian state, with connections to the wider leadership regime, and/or who play a role in supporting or facilitating the current Russian military action.’ This has included terminating its major litigation mandate with VTB, a Russian state-owned bank, but the firm has not yet announced plans to close the Moscow office.
Meanwhile Allen & Overy is taking similar measures, stating in a Linkedin post: ‘We are reviewing our Russia-related portfolio, and as a result we will refuse new instructions and stop all Russia-linked work that goes against our values.’
These sentiments were echoed by Clifford Chance, with the firm saying it would not accept new work from a ‘Russian state entity, Russian state-owned enterprises or individuals identified as having close connections to President Putin.’ It also said that it will ‘review’ existing mandates to ensure that it ‘remains consistent not only with the letter and the spirit of the international sanctions but also with our responsible business principles and values’, although the statement did not explicitly say the firm would seek to terminate any matters.
Elsewhere, Mishcon de Reya is one of the few firms to announce that it will ‘continue to act for Russian clients who are not affected by sanctions’, pointing to the fact that some of their clients ‘are themselves the target of President Putin’s government’. While not having a physical presence in the region, the firm is well known for its ‘VIP Russia’ product, which offers high-net-worth clients advice on investment, property and immigration issues.
Elsewhere, Herbert Smith Freehills has said it would be keeping a weather eye on the evolving crisis. ‘We have been shocked and deeply saddened by what continues to unfold in Ukraine. Our first immediate concern is looking after our Ukrainian and Russian colleagues. The firm’s policy will ensure that we take full account of this rapidly changing landscape in the way in which we conduct our business. This will include our ceasing to act for certain of our Russian clients and on certain Russia-related work,’ HSF said in a statement.
Similarly, White & Case said: ‘We are reviewing our Russian and Belarusian client representations and taking steps to exit some representations in accordance with applicable rules of professional responsibility. Our Moscow office is open and continues to operate. We are complying fully with all applicable sanctions, and we continue to closely monitor this rapidly evolving situation.’
Dentons is another of several firms which is keeping the situation under review: ‘In light of the rapidly accumulating sanctions, we are conducting a thorough review of existing work and new business acceptance criteria to ensure compliance with our legal and ethical obligations, firm policies, and our values. As part of this review, we have already concluded certain relationships and declined certain instructions.’