Comment: B&M is considered the grand old dame of global firms, but it is not one to rest on its laurels and has certainly shown that it is more than capable of adapting to new circumstances. The central element to the firm’s ongoing reshuffle has been the remuneration system, which has been completely transformed from eat-what-you-kill to what is now almost three-quarters lockstep – the aim being to incite partners to cooperate both nationally and internationally. This is the legacy of managing partner Dr. Constanze Ulmer-Eilfort, who has now been succeeded by Dr. Matthias Scholz. All of this is just as well, since the firm’s USP of being the first truly international outfit has long diminished with the rise of competitors such as DLA and Dentons. The emphasis at the firm both in Germany and internationally is on exploring and implementing technology to improve client service and in the end the firm’s own profitability. In this sense it is perhaps no surprise that Ulmer-Eilfort, an IP lawyer well versed in the technology sector, has been followed by IT lawyer Scholz. It was also interesting that the firm appointed the former head of the Bucerius Law School to a new post of Chief Strategy Officer.
Within the practice groups B&M has made a strategic decision: to exploit more fully the firm’s strong practice groups (such as IT, compliance and employment) for the benefit of the firm’s transactional teams. The advice to Dassault Systèmes on the acquisition of CST Group sets a good precedent. The arrival of a well-regarded energy team from Taylor Wessing the previous year also paid off, as it brought B&M a way into the Alba instruction and successes can already be seen in the close ties between compliance and corporate, where large restructurings with governance issues are on the agenda. The establishment of a new customs and trade practice group with an experienced specialist in embargoes from Freshfields is a further component.
The appointment of Frankfurt partner Dr. Nikolaus Reinhuber as global head of a new group focusing on industrial companies is an important step with regard to international cooperation and the relevance of the German practice within the international strategy. In corporate and M&A several younger partners have shown they know exactly how to exploit B&M’s platform.
However, B&M has on many occasions been able to build up young partners only to see them defect to other (mostly more profitable) competitors. And often enough younger good non-equity partners are frustrated in their attempts at further career progression because of the restricted number of international equity partner slots open to German partners. There were painful losses this year as well: Frankfurt securitization specialist Dr. Martin Kaiser moved to Ashurst, following in the footsteps of Munich salary partner Dr. Matthias Eggert, who had left the same practice for Dentons shortly before.
Lawyers in Germany: 196
International network: Globally positioned firm. Strong practices in Asia and some in western Europe. B&M has service centers in Belfast and Manila in the Philippines.
Developments: The strength of Baker in Germany is its breadth – but that also means that opportunities for younger lawyers to progress are also few and far between. It is difficult, almost impossible, to argue for more growth for the German practice in such a huge global partnership. But the next few years will see in all probability the role of the firm in Germany grow with the consequences of Brexit. It is to Baker’s advantage that the market is moving away from firm structures where there is an over-reliance on transactional work. B&M has reached a point that still eludes many competitors. The legal problems which trouble the executive and supervisory boards of international corporates are now moving further and further away from the traditional corporate field. Nevertheless, this is still often the gateway to attractive work. The various gaps in the partnership – which include a critical mass of older rainmakers in the corporate field – will therefore have to be filled. B&M can profit from the market development if it accelerates integration of the various practice groups in order to anchor different partners from different disciplines with key clients. In addition, the firm needs to broadcast more consistently that this team work is now part of the firm’s DNA. It is remarkable that in 2017 Baker still suffers in the market from an outdated view of the firm as overly individualistic although those days are long gone.
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