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02/26/14

Sidley Austin Considering Closing Office in Germany




Sidley Austin LLP is considering closing down its only office in Germany, its Frankfurt office. The law firm has taken the stance after a spate of partner exits left only one partner at Frankfurt and a few lawyers. The firm's management is reviewing whether it is justified to continue maintaining the office they opened in Frankfurt in 2006 with two attorneys from Lovells - Jens Rinze and Oliver Kessler.

Kessler, who was the regional managing partner of the law firm quit in 2012 to open an office in Frankfurt for German firm Oppenhoff & Partner. He was joined next year by corporate partner Jerome Friedrich who left Sidley Austin to join Oppenhoff.

Right now, Sidley Austin's Frankfurt office is being supervised by capital markets specialist Jens Rinze. Sidley Austin's current situation in Europe brings to mind what Fried Frank went through earlier this year after the Paris office was left without a partner, and the Frankfurt office was manned only by a single partner, corporate specialist Juergen van Kamm.

Sidley Austin's European region managing partner, George Petrow, 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."

Germany keeps proving a tough market to US law firms for establishing a permanent presence. Last April, Shearman & Sterling stopped the functioning of two-thirds of its German office network. However, Cleary Gottlieb gained from the action and hired Shearman's Frankfurt litigation partner Richard Kriendler.

While lateral movements, defections, departures, and additions will continue in all law firms across the world, foreign law firms moving into Europe mainland find it extremely unsettling when key partners, hired to drive expansion and consolidation in new territory, leave.

Earlier this year, the Paris office of Fried Frank was in essence wiped out after Eric Cafritz, who had established the Paris office for Fried Frank in 1993, left without much ado. Cafritz's departure had Fried Frank thinking of almost winding up their presence in Europe, though they are holding on through their Frankfurt office. In Fried Frank's case, Cafritz had been indispensable and the only permanent partner at the Paris office, and the office along with Cafritz had been the major reason that a merger between Ashurst and Fried Frank failed to work out in 2003.



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