Comment: The firm has proven that last year’s accomplishments were not a flash in the pan. The German offices gained ground economically and in virtually all practices, although this development was not as obvious as last year. But it is nonetheless a confirmation of the management path consistently pursued by international managing partner Stephen Immelt and his European counterpart Dr. Burkhart Goebel.
Perhaps the greatest success in Germany is how the firm is developing organically for the most part. Just a few years ago HL would have had a harder time holding on to promising young talent; today, however, it is precisely such talent that makes the market sit up and take notice. Young lawyers are now motivated by a pay system rewarding outstanding performance. But what is even more significant is how the firm is living up to its commitment to be a serious contender at global level. This manifested itself most obviously in the upswing enjoyed by the PE and VC group. Venture capital partner Dr. Nikolas Zirngibl is a perfect example of the rapid ascent of an HL lawyer to become one of the foremost names in his specialty. The PE team around the now excellently integrated Dr. Matthias Jaletzke may still be some way from a leading position, but it is clear here that the global practice is closing ranks: the work for Terra Firma came to the German practice from London, work for One Rock from the US.
In M&A, HL still primarily nurtures its established strengths in the pharma, energy, insurance and real estate sectors. But overall HL appears to have hit a wall in transactions. Following some high-profile network deals last year, work in Germany this year progressed in small steps. Banking on laterals would go against the firm’s strategy of preferring its own talent, but given how expansive competitors like Latham & Watkins are at present, it is likely that HL would struggle to recruit an appropriate player anyway. One exception to this was the arrival of the debt capital markets practice of Dr. Jochen Seitz in the autumn of 2017 from Mayer Brown.
The traditionally solid practices for IP, product liability, pharmaceuticals and tax do not face such problems. The lawyers here are shaping the market trends. The patents practice has even matured into the European market leader, with the German team playing a pivotal role. A US practice is under development, to secure the firm’s excellent connections with Apple and Merck. Two partner appointments have thus been made in both the patents and product liability practices in the past three years. Nevertheless, well-established, young top performers are making a mark in other fields too, such as employment and data protection.
JUVE Law Firm of the Year for: IP, region Frankfurt and Hessen, patents.
Lawyers in Germany: 372
International network: Integrated international firm with numerous offices in Europe, Asia, South America and the US. The 15th US office opened in Boston in September 2017, to serve the strong local life sciences industry.
Developments: The transatlantic connection between the German and US practice is proving a lasting success. The forerunner is still the Munich office, with its close ties to US clients in the pharmaceuticals sector. The European patents team is now exporting its expertise to the US. Though the potential offered by the transatlantic axis is used far from consistently, it is an invaluable advantage now: unlike Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters or Clifford Chance, HL does not need to worry about building up a US practice and dealing with the expected consequences of Brexit at the same time. This gives it the scope to sound out what possibilities are available.
Against this backdrop, continental European management is driving networking and rolling out the industry groups across Europe. The German practice too has been able to put the office-focused thinking of past years largely behind it. At the same time, strong sector groups are increasingly replacing the specialist practice groups in terms of importance: it is noticeable how the German practice is developing first and foremost within these sector groups.
Although the importance of this cannot be overstated, to a certain degree it has meant that competitors are branching into future fields like data mining or digital health move quickly. HL is entirely capable of positioning itself early on, as proven by the enterprising Tim Wybitul for data protection aspects and Dr. Richard Reimer in the promising issue of fintech. But when it comes to resolving tax-related compliance problems in the financial sector, HL is rarely called on, even though the German practices are predestined to play a role, with their international network.
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