After considering a move into Germany for more than a decade, Morrison & Foerster announced Tuesday that it is opening an office in Berlin by hiring a group of transactional lawyers from Hogan Lovells.
All nine partners in Hogan’s Berlin office, led by media, M&A, and regulatory lawyer Christoph Wagner, have agreed to make the move, according to Morrison & Foerster, with up to 20 associates and counsel and roughly 30 staff expected to follow. Negotiations over when and how the bulk of the team leaves Hogan Lovells are still under way, Wagner says. The Berlin office will be MoFo’s third in Europe—the others are in London and Brussels—and its 17th all told.
Firm chair Larren Nashelsky says the process that culminated with Tuesday’s announcement began when one of the Berlin-based Hogan partners approached a partner in MoFo’s New York office, a longtime friend, to ask if they’d consider hiring the group.”As we looked at the opportunity, we immediately became interested,” says Nashelsky, who succeeded previous chair Keith Wetmore a year ago. “This is a practice-driven, industry-focused, geographic fit for us.”
Other Am Law 200 firms have both expanded into and retreated from Germany—which this week reelected Angela Merkel for her third term as chancellor—in recent years. In September, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan opened an office in Munich, the third German outpost the firm has launched since 2010. Labor and employment firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart set up an office in Berlin at the end of 2012.
Shearman & Sterling, on the other hand, shuttered two of its three German offices earlier this year—one of which opened in 1991. Shearman leaders cited rate pressure and what they described as Germany’s oversaturated legal market as driving their decision to scale back in the country. Shearman’s German lawyers subsequently left for firms including Allen & Overy, Dechert, and Latham & Watkins, which opened a Düsseldorf office in May.
Nashelsky says that establishing a presence in Germany, and in the country’s capital in particular, will help MoFo expand its work for the technology companies that make up the core of the firm’s client base. “Lots of (technology) deals were being done (in Germany) and we weren’t doing them because we didn’t have a presence,” Nashelsky says.
MoFo’s technology, media, and telecommunications group has landed its share of deals lately, including advising SoftBank on its $21.6 billion acquisition of a 78 percent stake in Sprint Nextel Corporation—an assignment that earned the firm The American Lawyer‘s grand prize for global M&A deals in the magazine’s inaugural Global Legal Awards.
In addition to Wagner, the other former Hogan partners switching firms are corporate partner Karin Arnold, corporate and M&A lawyers Dirk Besse and Jörg Meissner; competition lawyer Eckhard Bremer; regulatory and antitrust lawyer Andreas Grünwald; tax and real estate partner Jens-Uwe Hinder; litigator Thomas Keul; and employment and data privacy specialist Hanno Timner.
Most of the nine have worked together since joining what was then Hogan & Hartson in 2001, Wagner says. When that firm merged with London-based Lovells in 2010, the lawyers became the Berlin office of Hogan Lovells. (The legacy Lovells firm, meanwhile, had exited Berlin four years before the merger.)
Hogan Lovells downplayed the losses Tuesday, saying in a statement that the Berlin office brings in less than 10 percent of the firm’s revenue in Germany, where Hogan still has 75 partners spread across locations in Munich, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. “Germany overall is performing very well and is a recognized and significant strength of the firm,” Hogan co-CEO David Harris said in a statement. “None of this changes that.” Any attorneys and staff who don’t make the move to Morrison & Foerster will have the opportunity to relocate to Hogan’s other German offices, and the firm has no plans to reopen in Berlin.
Harris also said in the statement that while Wagner’s “move earlier this month was planned and agreed,” the rest of the Berlin 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. Until they do so, we expect them to uphold all their responsibilities as partners in Hogan Lovells.”
Wagner says the resignation of the other partners is a “technicality” that is in progress and that the team planned to move together. “This is a very cohesive group,” he says, adding that, “As the entire office moves, we would expect our clients would decide to follow.”