Comment: Despite all of last year’s progress, in Germany Cleary still only has a market-leading practice in antitrust. The Cologne antitrust team is one of the foremost players in the German market and has been further boosted with the arrival of renowned Linklaters partner Dr. Wolfgang Deselaers. Here, Cleary coordinated the global merger control activities for long-time client Dow Chemical all the way through to the planned merger with competitor DuPont, which the European Commission approved in March subject to conditions. The antitrust practice is more deeply rooted among German companies than other teams, as shown by work for Henkel on its acquisition of Darex or for Kia Motors in its dispute with a German workshop association.
The other practices, on the other hand, struggle to develop a similarly strong position among German clients. There are signs that the M&A team was reinvigorated by an external hire last year, as the transaction practice had an excellent year. In the Opel sale by GM, for example, the firm played a lead role. Here, ties to Cleary’s strong French practice paid off, as they did in LVMH’s acquisition of Rimowa or IFF’s acquisition of Fragrance Resources.
However, there is no getting around the fact that, in corporate and capital markets, Cleary operates a largely cyclical business with renowned lawyers. It was thus all the more important that, following a host of partner losses in past years, a well-regarded corporate specialist came on board in the shape of Dr. Michael Ulmer (from Allen & Overy). He seamlessly blended into the practice in his first year and has already put his contacts to good use. The departure of capital markets lawyer Hanno Sperlich was thus not an existential loss.
Strengths: ?Antitrust.
See also: ?Cologne, ?Frankfurt.
Lawyers in Germany: 59
International network: Integrated firm with exceptionally strong international ties. Originally from the US, but with a large European practice (esp. strong in France, Belgium, Italy) and with two offices in South America and China. Offices in Abu Dhabi and Seoul.
Developments: Prestigious capital markets instructions like the €8bn Deutsche Bank secondary offering last year were, a few years ago, the core of the Cleary brand in Germany. This has changed: major IPOs and capital measures with German and US elements may still be strategically important for the relationships with central corporates as clients, but the US partners, who are paid from the same globally unified lockstep pot as their German colleagues, are less and less impressed by the fees earned here. Against this backdrop it is entirely logical that the German Cleary practice has gradually melted away in corporate and capital markets in recent years.
What is critical, however, is that Cleary has not demonstrated enough agility to replace less lucrative work with booming new fields. This not only concerns a readiness to invest strategically in top laterals, like competitor Latham & Watkins, but rather the partners are concentrating so much on client work and international integration that the firm as a whole is not pursuing the development of new fields as a long-term strategic goal.
This is evident in litigation, where Cleary is currently struggling to get more out of the field of antitrust damages claims, despite its strong antitrust practice and a highly regarded, experienced counsel. But branching into this field was Cleary’s declared strategic goal when it recruited a well-known litigation partner from Shearman four years ago. So far he has continued to focus on his hallmark of lucrative arbitration. But the recruitment of Deselaers, one of the most renowned experts on the interface of antitrust and litigation, shows the firm has recognized and is tackling this weak point. To achieve their objectives, the Cleary partners will have to take more entrepreneurial risks than they have up to now. This not only applies to developing defined fields of work, but also to advancing young talent. Cleary last appointed a partner from its own ranks in Germany ten years ago.
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