Is Germany turning its back on international firms?

Published in Chambers Magazine, Spring 2011

The managing partner of a leading German independent law firm said of this article, “I have never read a better researched piece on the legal market in Germany from an outside perspective.”

Note: the large picture of me at the top of the article on the Chambers Magazine website was not my idea.

Ten years ago the German legal market was transformed as its largest firms one by one merged with UK firms. But in the last few years a new generation of German independent firms has sprung up – and some old names have reappeared. Is Germany going full circle?

In February 2000, M&A partner Hans Rolf Koerfer left his office at the German law firm Oppenhoff & Radler, in Cologne, for the last time. Along with several senior colleagues he had spent the previous few months in negotiations with senior partners from London’s Linklaters & Paine to merge the two firms. But Koerfer had developed deep concerns about the deal and had urged his partners to reject it. Now, as the merger negotiations accelerated, Koerfer was getting out: he had secured a position with the American firm Shearman & Sterling.

Oppenhoff and Linklaters merged the following January. Over the ensuing years, Koerfer watched as Linklaters absorbed and reshaped his old firm. Then in November 2007, Koerfer received word from his colleagues in his old office that they, too, were leaving. Linklaters was closing the office in Cologne where Oppenhoff & Radler had been born. Eleven of Koerfer’s former colleagues were starting a new firm. Its name? Oppenhoff & Partner.

Now, Koerfer has come full circle. Having left Shearman for Allen & Overy in 2008, he rejoined Oppenhoff in September 2009. “I realised that the time was right to go back to the old business model,” he says.

And Oppenhoff is not alone. The last few years have seen a host of new independent firms spin off from the largest international firms in Germany. Ten years after the great British invasion of Germany, are the Germans fighting back?

Read more…