It is safe to say that the phrase, ‘unprecedented times’ has a virus-like omnipresence across the European legal sector. It has invaded nearly every Zoom call and email chain in circulation and as such we will attempt to not bring it up again throughout this annual recruitment roundup. Instead, we hope you will find below a snapshot of the legal recruitment market in Germany and the Benelux with highlights of the big movers, shakers and general trends. We have also concluded with things to watch out for in 2021 in the hope that it will be less, well… You know.
It has been a slower year for M&A but despite that there has been some interesting movement amongst firms. In this new era of dogs and children running around in the backdrop of living room meetings, the shine of the top tier U.S. law firms is dimmed. There have been several transaction partners moving to more flexible and localized firms this year. Noerr, Luther and GÖRG all managed to lure away talent from the likes of Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins and Baker McKenzie in Germany. A practical driver of these moves is that when economic activity recedes, having flexibility in pricing becomes increasingly important. That said, the light is not completely out for the globally elite firms – tough economic times often prove to be lucrative for those willing to invest in distressed or temporarily undervalued companies. This may be the strategy of the new Milbank team in Munich, which signified the revival of the private equity market in Q3 & Q4.
Banking & Finance:
The banking market somewhat mirrored Corporate M&A, as transactions paused so did the appetite in the need to service them. However again not without exception, our advice helped Ashurst strengthen in Munich with a top hire from Shearman & Sterling that sees them supporting clients in utilizing historically low interest rates. More moves like this will happen next year, especially as companies in trouble seek to finance but the real show is likely to happen in banking regulation. Brexit, the Wirecard collapse and a covid-fueled increase in government confidence to regulate should all stimulate regulatory changes in 2021. Early signs of this are starting to show with Dentons already moving in on one of the best banking regulatory lawyers in the Netherlands.
It was a relatively quiet year for big tax movers across the Benelux & Germany; the standout moves came from Dentons where we helped them place a top partner from Elvinger Pross Hussen in Luxembourg and Pollath + Partners in Frankfurt. We expect this to change in 2021; government debt acquired to stabilize the economy this year will lead to fiscal hikes and in turn, firms will seek to get their tax teams bulked and set for the rush.
The investment management area remained steady in growth over the course of the year. A key signpost for this was the opening of Debevoise Plimpton in Luxembourg as an extension of their European Funds practice. Ashurst, Goodwin Proctor and other firms continued to grow in Luxembourg, demonstrating the continued utility of the jurisdiction for investment vehicles. We facilitated a key partner move outside of the country with Simmons & Simmons who hired from PwC Legal in Amsterdam to secure their Dutch funds capability.
Technology & Life Sciences:
It goes without saying that these sectors are the main talking points of the year but when it comes to recruitment it has been dissimilar to previous years – U.S. law firms still do it better, and in fairness they should, given the buzz of California. So not many moves to highlight here except Cooley’s hiring a data privacy specialist in Brussels from DLA Piper. The real area to watch will be legaltech innovation where the race for supremacy is still very much on.
Energy & Infrastructure:
The Nordic nations continue to lead the way in transitioning to a sustainable energy cycle which is reflected in the activity of the year. Van Doorne launched into the energy sector for the first time in Amsterdam and many groups were seeking to strengthen or do the same. A definite space to watch in 2021. The same is true in Germany where we advised Watson Farley & Williams on the opening of a new office in Düsseldorf with a partner team from Pinsent Masons focused on Energy Law. PwC Legal suffered heavily in Germany as their entire energy team left for KPMG, with a bulk of wider public sector lawyers also moving on.
Much of the real estate sector has been a false economy in 2020 with commercial and residential infrastructure coming under new pressures. The main talking point of the year came just weeks ago with the announcement of Greenberg Traurig’s new partner from NautaDutilh in Amsterdam.
Restructuring & Insolvency:
As in 2008/20009 most Corporate M&A lawyers scrubbed their CV’s down and re-branded as corporate restructuring experts. Although this time around there has been a delay in the need; despite day-to-day incompetence of senior politicians the majority of developed European nations have benefitted from remarkable state aid supports. This has somewhat delayed the economic fallout until the summer of 2021 when we expect to see the real damage. In addition, amendments to European Schemes of Arrangements for insolvent companies should also stimulate moves. Some firms have started to plan for this already – Norton Rose Fulbright hiring two restructuring partners in Frankfurt, which we helped with and Dentons from Baker McKenzie in Berlin.
Litigation & Arbitration:
It is not often that the activity in arbitration outweighs that of traditional corporate and commercial litigation, but this year has seen just that. In consideration of saving costs and pulling together in mutually tough times, many litigation proceedings have evolved into arbitrations over the year. Allen & Overy have a new Head of Arbitration in Germany from Jones Day, our friends at Addleshaw Goddard, Germany have added to their team from Latham & Watkins in Hamburg and there were a series of disputes spin-off firms across the regions, including Ysquare from De Brauw in Amsterdam.
Competition & Antitrust:
A lot of the competition & antitrust moves that happened this year involved the Big 4, as their legal arms continue to try and find traction amongst internal conflicts and traditional law firms. PwC successfully poached a partner from Willkie Farr & Gallagher; whilst we also helped place a senior partner from Deloitte into US law firm McDermott, Will & Emery. Other U.S. firms that were active this year were Mayer Brown, in poaching a team from Baker McKenzie in Dusseldorf and Gibson Dunn from Latham & Watkins in Frankfurt.
Things to watch in 2021:
As we reflect on 2020, we believe it has been a successful year for H&P as well as for our clients. We are grateful to those clients for trusting our service and allowing us to aid them with some of the most significant partner moves in Europe – partially referenced above. Of course, this year has not come without its challenges, where like many of you, we have had to juggle working from home and delivering to the same high standard. It’s encouraging to know that this has been a relatively seamless task!
If you are seeking a new challenge or to capitalize on the trends mentioned above, we encourage you to reach out to a member of our team.