Two weeks after Shearman & Sterling announced plans to close two of its three offices in Germany, four of its remaining 14 partners based in the country are jumping to Latham & Watkins.

The attorneys leaving Shearman for Latham are corporate partners Martin Neuhaus, Harald Selzner, and Rainer Wilke, who will launch a Düsseldorf office for their new firm, and arbitration and regulatory compliance partner Markus Rieder, who is joining Latham’s 21-lawyer Munich office.

The addition of the Shearman team represents Latham’s latest move in a 12-year push to establish and expand its presence in Germany. The firm’s Frankfurt and Hamburg offices, which now count 47 and 78 lawyers, respectively, opened in 2001, with the Munich office launching five years later. While Latham describes most of the recent growth in Germany as internal and organic, a handful of lateral hires have come aboard of late. On April 19, for instance, the firm announced that it had recruited Allen & Overy derivatives partner Okko Behrends to its Frankfurt office. In October 2012, the firm added public law specialist Jörn Kassow from White & Case as a Hamburg-based counsel.

Acknowledging that the German legal market is extremely competitive at the moment, Latham executive committee member Ora Fisher says the decision to launch in Düsseldorf "is based on a long-term view of Germany. It’s obviously a very critical part of our global platform." Echoing that view, Latham global corporate vice-chair Dr. Jörg Kirchner says that by setting up shop in Düsseldorf, the team joining from Shearman should help Latham make inroads with the industrial corporate clientele based there.

Despite the four partners’ move coming close on the heels of Shearman’s April 23 announcement that it will close its Düsseldorf and Munich offices by year-end and consolidate what remains of its German operations in Frankfurt, Kirchner says Latham’s decision to contact Selzner and his colleagues "was not a reaction to Shearman’s decision to close the Düsseldorf office. This has a longer history than that." He says the firm has been looking for the right partners to open in Düsseldorf for about a year and had spoken to the then Shearman partners prior to last month’s announcement.

Shearman senior partner Creighton Condon offered a muted response to the losses, saying the departing partners "are all outstanding lawyers, and we wish them the best."

In leaving Shearman, Neuhaus, Rieder, Selzner, and Wilke follow two other top German partners who have left since the impending office closures were announced. Düsseldorf-based corporate partner Hans Diekmann, 52, moved to Allen & Overy on April 23, while Hans Jürgen Meyer-Lindemann, who was based in Brussels but primarily handled antitrust matters related to transactions with a German connection, joined Dechert on May 2.

All four of those moving to Latham are highly regarded. Selzner, 48, a corporate partner who divided his time at Shearman between the Düsseldorf and Frankfurt offices, was viewed as one of the firm’s leading next-generation dealmakers in Germany in the wake of Diekmann’s departure. He departs as cohead of Shearman’s global M&A group and as a member of the nine-member policy committee on which Condon and global managing partner David Beveridge also sit.

Wilke and Rieder, meanwhile, served as coheads of Shearman’s German offices. According to his bio on the Shearman website, the 51-year-old Wilke worked on major deals involving such clients as Daimler AG, IVG Immobilien AG, and E.ON SE. Last summer, he advised an IVG subsidiary in connection with its transfer of underground gas storage facilities as part of a broader effort to shed debt. Wilke was also the last Shearman partner left who was once based in the firm’s now-shuttered 30-lawyer Mannheim outpost. (The rest of that group spun off on its own in 2008.) Rieder, 41, was elevated to the partnership just six years ago.

According to their bios on the Shearman website and previous news reports, the four lawyers worked for many of the most prominent clients brought in by veteran Shearman rainmaker Georg Thoma over the past two decades, including Daimler, E.ON, Allianz, and IVG. Though Thoma—whose book of business is so significant that Shearman amended its retirement policy in 2007 to allow him to practice past age 65—is still with the firm, his recent appointment to Deutsche Bank AG’s supervisory board may consume a significant chunk of his time. 

On Tuesday, Shearman issued the first details about the upcoming consolidation of its German operations. The firm’s plans call for Thomas König, an M&A partner, to manage the Frankfurt office, assisted by tax specialist Bodo Bender. In a statement released in connection with Tuesday’s announcement, König said Shearman will "continue to provide exceptional capabilities and client service in corporate/M&A, capital markets, finance, regulatory, tax, and international arbitration/litigation."

In his own statement, Condon said the firm’s consolidated office "will be fully integrated with our elite practices throughout Europe and around the world." That office—which currently serves as home base to finance partner Esther Jansen, capital markets partner Marc Plepelits, and arbitration partner Richard Kreindler—will soon welcome M&A partners Thoma and Alfred Kossmann, who are currently based in Düsseldorf.

Unmentioned in Tuesday’s announcement were two other corporate partners currently listed on Shearman’s website: Roger Kiem, who is based in Frankfurt and joined the firm from White & Case in 2001; and Düsseldorf-based Andrea Eggenstein, another Düsseldorf partner.

The announced departures leave 60 lawyers in the country—a sharp drop from the 120 the firm fielded in the country five years ago. That number could fall further still after possible departures of counsel and associates are factored in.