Continuing to strengthen its presence in central and eastern Europe, Austria-based Schoenherr said Wednesday it has finalized a merger with its Turkish ally, Türkolğu & Celepçi.
The two firms have been operating through a formal cooperation agreement since 2010, but moved to integrate fully after a proposal to do so received the unanimous backing of Schoenherr’s 25 equity partners at a recent shareholder meeting. The merger formally took effect with the start of the Austrian firm’s fiscal year on February 1.
Schoenherr managing partner Christoph Lindinger says the combination is a “logical step” toward ensuring the 300-lawyer firm is “uniquely well-positioned to benefit from Turkey’s continuing economic dynamism and the expanding trade and investment between Turkey and the markets in central and eastern Europe.”
Established in 2005, Türkolğu & Celepçi specializes in corporate, M&A, and finance transactions, while its dispute offering was recently bolstered with the arrival of experienced attorney Murat Canyürek, who now heads the practice. The 19-lawyer firm has a particular focus on the energy and telecommunications sectors, acting for such major corporations as fuel products giant OMV Petrol Ofisi, power plant developer Metcap Energy Investments, and Turkcell, the country’s largest mobile phone operator. The Turkish firm also advised pharmaceutical wholesaler Hedef Alliance Holding on its sale of a majority stake to U.K. retailer Boots.
The Türkolğu & Celepçi lawyers will work closely with Schoenherr’s existing group of Austria-based Turkey specialists—a four-lawyer team led by partners Markus Piuk and Alexander Popp that focuses on cross-border M&A and Turkish energy projects. (Piuk plans to relocate from Vienna to Istanbul as a result of the merger.) The group recently represented Turkcell on its bid for Macedonian mobile operator Cosmofon.
With the tie-up finalized, Türkolğu & Celepçi’s founding partner Levent Celepçi will join Schoenherr’s equity partnership. Schoenherr opened its equity ranks to partners outside its Vienna headquarters in 2010—some 16 years after the firm established its first international office. International partners now account for more than 20 percent of Schoenherr’s total equity partnership.
"Quite some time ago, we started to transform ourselves from an Austrian firm into an international firm," Lindinger told The Am Law Daily at the time. "But you cannot be truly international with ownership that is only local, so this is clearly a step in the right direction. It’s a new chapter for the firm."
Since opening in Bucharest in 1995, Schoenherr has expanded aggressively throughout central and eastern Europe. The firm now has 14 offices across the region, having launched in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia in 2008.
(Schoenherr’s main Austrian rival, Wolf Theiss, has pursued a similar strategy of targeting central and eastern Europe. It operates an almost identical 13-office network, and has had international equity partners since 2003—just three years after it launched its first foreign base in Prague. (A firm spokeswoman says the firm is watching the Turkish market closely but has "no concrete plans" to open an office there.)
Schoenherr is the latest international firm to feel the pull of Turkey’s vibrant economy. Though the country’s GDP growth slowed to its lowest rate in two years during the third quarter of 2012, a recent OECD report predicted that it would continue to expand almost 3 percent annually over the next 50 years. At that pace, Turkey would boast the world’s seventh-fastest growing economy.
White & Case was the first international law firm to enter the Turkish market, having opened offices in both Istanbul and Ankara, the country’s capital, in 1983. It was joined in 2008 by Paris-based firms Salans and Gide Loyrette Nouel, while DLA Piper and Linklaters spin-off Kinstellar opened in Istanbul in 2010. Clifford Chance followed by dispatching London finance partner Simon Williams to Istanbul to establish a new practice alongside 10-lawyer affiliate firm Yegin Legal Consultancy in April 2011, while Chadbourne & Parke launched a greenfield base in the country later that year. Chadbourne’s office is headed by corporate partner Ayse Yuksel, who previously headed the firm’s Turkey, Middle East, and North Africa corporate practice in London, New York, and Dubai, and was named among The American Lawyer’s “45 Under 45” list of top global female attorneys in 2011. (The development of the Turkish legal market was detailed in the magazine’s Focus Europe supplement in 2012.)
U.K. Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy opened its own Istanbul office last spring, headed by London banking partner Charles Lindsay and focusing on M&A and English law finance work, including project finance and capital markets. In a statement announcing the move, A&O managing partner Wim Dejonghe said the firm hoped to capitalize on the “significant opportunities” present in the region. "Turkey is a market that we have been watching for some time," Dejonghe added. "Turkey’s strong economy, extensive privatization program, pressing demand for infrastructure investment and emerging status as an energy hub, present an immense opportunity."
Most recently, Baker & McKenzie established an exclusive relationship with 40-lawyer Esin Attorney Partnership in October—a move Baker says represents one of the first steps toward the firm opening its own office in Turkey.