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Surprise and strong words as a nine-partner Hogan Lovells team quits for MoFo’s German launch

While Hogan Lovells has had its integration challenges since the three-year Anglo/American union that created it, the firm’s well-regarded German practice had seemed one part of the empire enjoying prosperous tranquillity.

As such there was some surprise – not least at Hogan Lovells – with the announcement today (24 September), that a nine-partner team is to leave the firm’s Berlin arm to launch a German law practice for top 50 US practice Morrison & Foerster. The team constitutes Hogan Lovells’ entire partnership ranks in Berlin.

Morrison carried out a partner vote to ratify the addition of the team of nine partners, who are currently working with more than 20 associates and counsel. A statement from the firm subsequently confirmed that the US firm had taken on a 30-lawyer team from Hogan Lovells in Berlin.

In what is likely to create tension between the firms, there are still some logistical knots to be resolved. Of the nine partners, it has been suggested that media, M&A and regulatory lawyer Christoph Wagner officially resigned with Hogan Lovells in early September, but it is not clear who else has formally resigned.

However, it has been confirmed that all of the partners listed will be joining Morrison: 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) and Christoph Wagner (M&A, TMT, regulatory and media).

The office managing partners will be Jens-Uwe Hinder and Hanno Timner.

‘We are delighted to become partners of Morrison & Foerster,’ said Wagner. ‘We believe this combination will deliver many benefits to our clients and to MoFo’s well-known TMT clients across its offices in Tokyo, London, New York, Northern California and elsewhere. With MoFo, we build a bridge from Berlin to Silicon Valley to carry our clients at high speed in both directions.’

The departure of Wagner, who was the managing partner of the firm’s Berlin office, and counts BSkyB as a client, will be regarded as a set-back to the 2,527-lawyer Hogan Lovells. Unlike, many of its European offices, the legacy Lovells’ large and profitable German practice has until now largely avoided post-merger losses.

The latest departures still leave Hogan Lovells with 75 partners in Germany across Munich (23), Dusseldorf (21), Frankfurt (16), and Hamburg (15). It is unclear if Hogan Lovells will seek to rebuild in Berlin, which is generally viewed as a secondary legal hub in Germany.

Hogan Lovells co-chief executive David Harris commented in an unusually strongly worded statement: ‘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. Each of our other offices in Germany is significantly larger than Berlin, which represents less than 10% of total German revenues. Germany overall is performing very well and is a recognised and significant strength of the firm. None of this changes that.’

The addition of Morrison’s Berlin office marks the 1,100-lawyer firm’s second office opening this year, following its launch of an office in Singapore in January.