Comment: After two years of – for its standards – rapid growth with laterals, the past year has been one more of consolidation and bringing the new partners together to explore what the broadened setup can achieve in the market. The result was once again impressive: SZA is a firm which proves every year that an independent firm with a large group of relatively senior lawyers can find market conditions highly beneficial to expanding their practice. In the firm’s flagship disciplines of corporate and litigation, the opportunity of acting as independent advisor to executive and supervisory boards has been grasped with both hands. Another sign of this was the arrival of corporate governance guru Prof. Dr. Dr. Theodor Baums as of counsel.
There is, if anything, too much work for the corporate and litigation team, and even if the market’s perception is strongly focused on Prof. Dr. Jochem Reichert, a team of younger partners is also making a name for itself, e.g. in the advice to BayernLB on damages claims against two former administrative board members. In addition, the work for VW on shareholder suits related to the diesel scandal maintained a high profile for SZA.
Other areas continued to perform well: the antitrust team is highly prominent in the field of damages claims for defendants. The instruction from Haribo for defense against claims concerning the candy cartel and the precedent court case for Vossloh were two examples. Two counsel are increasingly noticed alongside the senior partners.
In the traditionally strong company succession practice the quality of the work – like so often at SZA – can be seen in pushing back legal boundaries. The work of Dr. Stephan Scherer in law of descent was highly praised.
The restructuring and insolvency practice has become established at the firm. Two experienced laterals who joined in 2014 are sought after for self-administration as well as complex instructions featuring innovative insolvency plans. In a similar vein, a partner has managed to build a restructuring practice in Frankfurt.
But the most interesting development came in the M&A team. SZA tends to work for core clients and deal flow can therefore be haphazard. But on two occasions the firm was involved in highly significant deals demonstrating the potential in the transactional practice – Dr. Heino Rück's work on one of the year's most challenging and legally complex deals, advising Uniwheels on the takeover bid by US company Superior Industries for the Warsaw Stock Exchange. And the fact that the top US M&A practice Wachtell Lipton chose SZA to work on the German law issues of Bayer’s massive public takeover of Monsanto in the US speaks volumes about the firm’s international reputation.
Strengths: ?Corporate.
Lawyers in Germany: 73
International network: Independent German firm with good contacts with leading foreign firms, esp. in Europe and the US.
Developments: The M&A highlights of the past year demonstrate what role SZA could play if the firm chose to devote more resources to transactional work, i.e. building it up to a status similar to the corporate practice. The firm has made great capital of its independence. And given the role of Germany in the European legal market after Brexit, that privileged position is going to throw up even more opportunities, in particularly as a partner for cross-border M&A. But this will be the task of the younger corporate partners who are becoming more prominent in both Frankfurt and Mannheim. They will have to shape the firm’s response to the new opportunities in the market, but they will also have to be given the opportunity to do so. It is noticeable that in some of the practices other than corporate, the younger partners and counsel are not gaining attention as quickly as would be hoped. It points to an older generation that could in a strategic and deliberate fashion find a route to delegate more work and give the future generation more prominence. The next few years will be vital in this respect.
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