CLIFFORD CHANCE

Comment: With the restructuring of the German practice initiated by managing partner Dr. Peter Dieners at the end of 2014, CC took a substantial risk, and for a while it looked as though the big plan might fail. Almost three years later, CC is (almost) at its goal. Its focus on big-ticket transactions and related fields like risk management, funds work, antitrust investigations and tax structuring, is having an impact. The M&A practice enjoyed an impressive track record and was able to step up work for industrial companies like Schaeffler and Freudenberg. At the same time, the practice excelled as usual with its typically strong sector focus, advising global regular client Pfizer on a large-scale internal restructuring. This instruction is proof of how well positioned CC is with young partners, despite some much-discussed departures in traditional corporate a few years ago. This field is growing in relevance in every respect because of the changing deal structures. CC is also firmly back in the saddle in the pharma practice a year after a large chunk of the mid-ranks broke away, as demonstrated by the solidarity of its sector contacts.
Although CC did not recruit as many laterals in the restructuring as it originally hoped, those who came were selected well. Hiring Dr. Anselm Raddatz, who leads the corporate practice, proved the right move, not just as far as pure client work is concerned. Under his leadership, young partners like Dr. Jörg Rhiel and Dr. Christoph Holstein were given the freedom and support they needed to carve out positions. CC is also devoted to advancing partners internally, as demonstrated by four partner appointments, two of which were in the corporate practice. That was far more than in any of the past five years.
The real estate, tax and compliance teams put in their usual successful performances. The real estate practice, a flagship for years, now has a number of exemplary generation changes behind it and excelled yet again with an impressive number of transactions. The tax and compliance practices benefited from the firm’s exceptional connections in the financial sector: dealing with the fallout from dividend stripping and “cum-cum” proceedings alone will generate a sizeable amount of work in the years to come.
The stability that CC enjoys in other core disciplines was shown by its unflappability in the face of partner departures. The loss of renowned banking and finance lawyer Dr. Arne Klüwer to Dentons did not throw this practice off course, as it, as one competitor says, is “thoroughly established”. The PE practice’s loss of experienced partner Christopher Kellett to Linklaters hardly affected the team’s reputation and work at all. High-volume deals, like the Ista Deutschland acquisition, where CC advised several buyers, were the domain of other lawyers anyway.
JUVE Law Firm of the Year for: M&A.
See also: ?Düsseldorf, ?Frankfurt, ?Munich.
Lawyers in Germany: 276
International network: Integrated international firm with offices on all continents, including long-standing presence in South America (Brazil). US East Coast offices since 2000 through merger in Washington and New York. The strongest office is still the London head office.
Developments: CC has laid exceptionally solid foundations, which it can build on further. And it will have to, as the spectacular growth seen by US competitors like Latham & Watkins – partly with renowned former Clifford partners – will make management very aware of how tough the competition is at the top of the market. But CC still struggles to bring in first-rate laterals. While last year this could have been because the firm was watching its step, the impression is sometimes given that the interest from potential laterals is relatively low. Top performers looking to change firms seem to prefer other, often US names at the moment. This is traditionally due to the salary structure of the US firms, but also the uncertainty for British firms caused by Brexit. Even the current transaction boom is a double-edged sword: while on the one hand it meant that CC enjoyed an excellent M&A year, it makes deal lawyers, virtually all of whom are busy, less interested in switching firms.
This makes growth from the bottom up all the more important. The most recent partner appointments are just as encouraging as the advancement of young partners. What is still missing is a clear commitment by the London head office – also due to the uncertainties in the British legal scene because of Brexit – to help raise the significance of the German practice within the global CC framework. It is possible that growth in the US and Far East has taken center stage for too long to make a quick switch to continental Europe feasible. So as not to risk its success since restructuring, CC will have to send a clear signal to the market that it will not surrender the playing field to more expansive competitors without a fight.
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