Watson Farley & Williams

Comment: WFW has its consistent focus on certain sectors, e.g. private equity/venture capital, shipping and renewable energies, to thank for its nationwide renown. In the latter two, the firm has carved out impressive visibility in transactions and restructuring. Thanks to its solid place on many bank panels, WFW was seen in complex instructions, incl. the Rickmers Group restructuring for UniCredit (public knowledge) or on the side of the bank consortium that financed offshore wind farm Borkum II. At the same time, WFW is widening its client base within its sector specialization: the energy practice led the way a long time ago by positioning itself at the side of investors and project companies like PNE Wind and Commerz Real. WFW has now caught up in the maritime sector: it made headway in building up contacts among ship owners, as seen in advice to Bremen-based shipping company Zeaborn on its acquisition of a Rickmers division. In such deals, the firm often covers tax, employment and regulatory aspects, and the international practice is also an asset. The firm is deliberately and continuously fine-tuning its setup, for instance bringing in another lateral for reinforcement: from Latham, WFW welcomed corporate partner Dr. Björn-Axel Dißars, who brought good contacts to companies in the maritime, oil and gas sectors. The firm also closed a gap in real estate in Hamburg by two internal partner appointments, as well as underscoring its intention to widen activity to include traditional infrastructure projects in its energy practice. The firm took account of dynamic development in employment, which was already on the horizon in previous years, by naming Dr. Anne Kleffmann equity partner.
See also: ?Hamburg, ?Munich.
Lawyers in Germany: 71
International network: Internationally integrated firm with 14 offices in eleven countries. Due to the firm’s traditional specialty in commercial maritime law, many of these are in port cities, e.g. Athens and Hong Kong. Cooperation with the Vietnamese firm LVN & Associates. The London head office has a specialty in advice to banks.
Developments: Cooperation between the three German offices is working increasingly well; in transactions esp., the two smaller offices in Munich and Frankfurt can draw on the resources of the larger Hamburg team. Nonetheless, it is obvious that WFW is making much faster progress in its staff growth at its north German home port, although it has managed to carve out a distinctive profile in Munich thanks to its PE and VC focus. In Frankfurt, where WFW has been present since 2013 and there are nearly as many lawyers now as in Munich, it has so far been unable to achieve this. But this will be necessary if the firm is to realize its further growth plans in the competitive market environment – WFW is aiming for a size of 20 fee earners in Frankfurt in the medium term, which is more than twice the current figure. It is also unlikely that the development of the banking and finance practice is finished: besides the excellent position of the Hamburg team in finance advice within its sector focus, WFW has so far been unable to enhance its position in, for example, leveraged buyouts. The firm also needs to close a thematic gap: though a number of partners occasionally litigate, WFW still lacks a hard-hitting litigation practice.
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