Comment: Since the appointment of Dr. Guido Zeppenfeld as managing partner in 2014, the US firm has been undergoing considerable restructuring. The goal, very similar to that of competitors such as White & Case or Hogan Lovells, has been to improve profitability in Germany by aligning the teams more strongly with the international practice, and increase the amount of cross-border work in the German offices.
There was good news in this regard: being appointed to the new international panel by BASF. That would not have been possible unless the German practice had made advances, especially in its corporate practice, and it is as such an encouraging development. The breakthrough was made in the previous year when the huge Asian practice was the source of major deals in Germany. This year provided a steady flow of mid-cap deals, but nothing to match the headlines of the previous year. The private equity practice, however, has been transformed thanks to one of the new arrivals from last year, Dr. Julian Lemor, who brought nearly all of his clients with him and quickly made inroads with existing MB clients.
The most important addition of the year was real estate lawyer Dr. Fabian Hartwich from Berwin Leighton Paisner. The young partner has the potential to breathe new life into the real estate practice, which has lost momentum somewhat in recent years. There was also an addition in the small, indeed undersized, Düsseldorf office: IP lawyer Christoph Crützen came from Clifford Chance and gives MB a patent practice in what will be an important location when the European patent court gets off the ground.
However, it is often the case that the restructuring of a firm can cause unintended collateral damage and Mayer Brown was no exception. One of the most important international practice groups at the firm is banking and finance, and regulatory expertise in Germany will be central to the success of any firm over the coming years. And so the departure of the promising young partner Alexander Behrens to Allen & Overy was a major disappointment. Another headline defection was the former practice head Dr. Jochen Seitz, who took his debt capital markets team to Hogan Lovells. The loss is significant as regards turnover and profitability, but Seitz was, on the other hand, a controversial figure in the Frankfurt office and there were some at MB who were prepared to take the hit for a long-term investment in a more cooperative culture.
As well as losing tax partner Dr. Ingo Kleutgens to Weil Gotshal & Manges, the employment team saw one of its partners, Dr. Nicolas Rößler, join client Albemarle. While such departures are a double-edged sword, in that they often bind a client more tightly to the firm, the practice will have to rebuild company pensions law, which Rößler represented.
See also: ?Düsseldorf, ?Frankfurt.
Lawyers in Germany: 70
International network: Transatlantic firm with offices in many US cities (head office in Chicago), Mexico and London. The firm has maintained some large Asian offices for several years, esp. in Hong Kong.
Developments: Growth and practice improvement are seldom linear and although there have been a few bumps over the past year, the general direction of development at MB is positive. The corporate partners in particular are well aware that they carry a particular responsibility in bringing in deals which will raise the profile of the firm in Germany. The major problem for the firm is that there are a number of US firms seeking to expand here; more will be arriving in the next few years, so a USP and a solid market position is vital to differentiate itself both for clients and potential laterals. Under these circumstances, the once ambitious Düsseldorf office is much too small.
The broadening of the banking and finance team must be tackled resolutely. Even if the debt issues and derivatives practice under Dr. Jochen Seitz is remarkably successful, it has not yet managed to shake off the impression that the team lacks cohesion. There are signs that the up-and-coming sale of IKB, where MB is heavily involved, will take place in 2018 and if so, that will put the team back in the spotlight.
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