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More drama from Berlin – criticism of Hogan Lovells client led to departure by partner now leading team to rival

Surprise surrounding last week’s announcement that Hogan Lovells’ 30-lawyer Berlin arm is leaving to launch a German law practice for Morrison & Foerster has been compounded by the indications that local TMT partner Christoph Wagner was earlier asked to leave the firm for publicly criticising a client.

The decision by the 2,527-lawyer Anglo/American firm came after Wagner wrote an article in German newspaper FAZ looking at the antitrust concerns surrounding Deutsche Telekom’s decision to impose data limits on its flat rate internet connections, which German journalists have reportedly warned is a threat to the freedom of the web.

The development is the subject of widespread discussion in Germany and the government – the largest shareholder in Deutsche Telekom – has also entered the debate, with the federal minister of economics and technology Philipp Rösler of the Free Democratic Party recently registering his concern over the rate structures and warning that the German government and competition authorities would be carefully monitoring ongoing developments.

However, Wagner was asked to leave for criticising Deutsche Telecom – one of Hogan Lovells’ largest clients – in an apparent breach of internal procedures.

News of Wagner’s departure was first revealed last Tuesday (24 Sept), when Morrison & Foerster confirmed it was taking a nine-partner team from Hogan Lovells to launch its German law practice.

The remaining partners are Karin Arnold (corporate), Dirk Besse (corporate M&A), Eckhard Bremer (competition), Andreas Grünwald (TMT, regulatory, antitrust), Jens-Uwe Hinder (tax, real estate), Thomas Keul (litigation), Jörg Meissner (corporate M&A) and Hanno Timner (employment, data privacy).

A further statement from the top 50 US practice confirmed it would be taking the entire 30-lawyer team from Hogan Lovells in Berlin.

The news caught Hogan Lovells by surprise, as many of the staff had not yet formally resigned, apart from Wagner who officially left in early September.

In an unusually strongly worded statement, Hogan Lovells co-chief executive David Harris said: ‘Christoph Wagner’s move earlier this month was planned and agreed. At the time of his departure, the Berlin office partners expressed their strong desire to stay with the firm and we supported that.

‘Despite that support they have now gone back on their commitment and have said that they want to leave. We understand they have accepted offer letters from a competitor, however, they have yet to resign or deal with the usual formalities. Until they do so, we expect them to uphold all their responsibilities as partners in Hogan Lovells.’

For more on the post-merger challenges facing Hogan Lovells, see our analysis, The Daily Grind.