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S&C’s German Law Practice

Sullivan & Cromwell’s Frankfurt team reflects on the impressive growth the office has seen and discusses the milestones that built the foundation for a market-leading German practice.
 
S&C opened its office in Frankfurt in 1995, a natural outgrowth of the Firm’s long-standing work for clients in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The original team, including partners George White and David Morrison, played a significant role in groundbreaking German capital markets transactions in the German market. For example, they were extensively involved in the privatization of Deutsche Telekom, representing the underwriters in the IPO in 1996 and in subsequent tranches, as well as in the IPOs of Deutsche Post, EPCOS and Infineon, in which they acted for the issuer.
 
It soon became clear that offering clients a German law capability in addition to U.S. expertise would be essential in order for S&C to maintain a prominent role in the German legal market. “Due to certain developments in the German legal market, which involved the arrival of the U.K. magic circle firms, a significant number of German firms we considered to be our peers, with whom we had historically cooperated on German transactions, were integrated into global law firms that had their own U.S. legal capabilities, thus somewhat narrowing the market accessible to us,” explained Wolfgang Feuring. At the same time, he noted, “it became a more and more interesting market for Sullivan & Cromwell to be here, be a part of, and not only practice U.S. law.”
 
In 2001, to capitalize on future opportunities for growth, S&C recruited the highly respected and leading German lawyers Wolfgang Feuring and Konstantin Technau as partners and officially commenced the practice of German law. Feuring and Technau worked together with former U.S. partner David Morrison, U.S. partner George White and U.S. senior counsel David Huggin to build a strongly integrated German and U.S. legal practice. Partners David Rockwell and Krystian Czerniecki also played key roles in the office’s development, and the U.S.-German team soon became a trusted authority in the areas of capital markets, M&A and financing in Germany.
 
Today, the Frankfurt legal team consists of German, U.S. and dual-qualified lawyers and offers seamlessly integrated legal services to clients. The number of practicing lawyers in the office has grown from two at the outset in 1995 to more than 25 in 2017.
 
Capital markets has been a focus for the office since its opening, and the team’s work in this area is highly regarded. As Carsten Berrar put it, “there is simply no law firm in Frankfurt that has our experience on the capital markets side.” S&C’s lawyers in Frankfurt have consistently been the legal team of choice on many of the largest and most complex equity capital markets transactions throughout German-speaking Europe, including Commerzbank’s €11 billion capital raising in 2011, which was the largest ever in Germany. Additionally, S&C has been involved in more securities offerings in Germany than any other firm and has held that first place ranking since 2007. The Frankfurt team consistently advises on the largest and highest-profile IPOs in Germany, including Evonik and Deutsche Annington in 2013 and the following, which were the largest German IPOs in their respective years: LEG Immobilien (2013), Tognum and HHLA (2007), Symrise and Wacker Chemie (2006), Premiere (2005), and Deutsche Postbank and Wincor Nixdorf (2004).
 
Although capital markets is still one of the pillars of strength for the office, it has grown to become an integrated and successful practice that also specializes in mergers and acquisitions and financing, including acquisition and real estate financing, restructuring and refinancings. S&C has maintained a leading position in German M&A during the past five years, ranking first among U.S.-based law firms and sixth overall in volume of German M&A from 2007 to 2013, including landmark deals, such as the representation of Commerzbank in its acquisition of Dresdner Bank (2008).
“The practice today has been shaped by our approach to focus on those three pillars of practice areas where we believe we can offer clients the best level of service available,” said York Schnorbus. Feuring agrees: “We clearly are not a full-service firm in the sense that we can give advice on each and every part of German law, but instead we are focused on these three specific areas, and ultimately that is one of the key things that makes us different from our competitors. We stand out because we are incredibly knowledgeable in these three areas, and clients know and appreciate that.”
 
Max Birke and York Schnorbus credit the success of the Frankfurt office in part to S&C’s tradition of fostering associates’ growth and development by training them to be generalists and giving them hands-on experience at an early stage in their careers. Deals are leanly staffed, so associates have an opportunity to get in on the action  and be active, contributing team members. York says that, “pretty early in my career, Wolfgang and Konstantin gave me the opportunity to deal with clients directly and to begin to establish what have become long-lasting professional relationships with them. Similarly, the younger partners are now asked to do the same for associates on their team—involve them as much as possible in client dealings to continue this part of our practice development.”
 
The trust partners place in their younger colleagues creates a congenial environment, where everyone is committed to the work, and the assistance of all staff members is valued. Sophie Moeder agrees, adding that she has “had the privilege of witnessing the rise of our German law practice almost from the outset and in that time, have also enjoyed seeing three of my German colleagues, who started their careers with S&C in Frankfurt, made partners. I think this is a great example of one of S&C’s important features—to grow organically wherever possible.”
 
The Frankfurt office is relatively small. “It does not take long to learn everyone’s name,” says Berrar, laughing. He also points out, more seriously, that such collegiality creates a positive professional atmosphere and the office’s size has other advantages. “This combination of being in a small office where everybody knows each other really well and where the atmosphere is really excellent, along with being in an international, global law firm where people work together with all the different offices around the world, gives you the feeling of being small and large at the same time. That is part of what makes the Frankfurt office unique and is something that I enjoy about working here,” he says. Feuring also commented on the benefits of being a part of a larger organization, adding: “You get all the support from the Firm that you need, which is extremely helpful, but on the other hand, you also have all the independence you need in order to successfully develop the business.”
 
As the Frankfurt office approaches 25 years of operation, its remarkable growth is evident. “I think that a successful U.S. practice in Frankfurt would be very difficult to maintain without a local practice,” says Berrar. “We are fortunate that this is something S&C realized at the end of the ’90s. It is clear from the numbers that embracing German law was a good move for us because, since then, the growth of our office in Frankfurt has predominantly been on the German law side. At the same time, though, the German practice would not be as successful as it was over the last ten years without the U.S. practice. The two are very much connected.”
 
Indeed, it is clear that the hard work of all involved has paid off in the form of continued growth and development of talent. “I don’t think there’s any firm in Frankfurt that can really offer such a balanced, integrated U.S.-German practice, which is equally good on the German and the U.S. law side, as we can,” adds Berrar. Continually selected by the world’s foremost financial institutions and frequently honored with awards and recognitions, the leanly staffed crew in Frankfurt is obviously doing something right and S&C looks forward to what the next decade will bring.
 
Wolfgang Feuring encourages associates from other offices to consider spending some time in Frankfurt as they plan their next career move.
 
In addition to the thrill of living and working in Europe, working in a smaller office can offer lawyers the opportunity to stand out in ways that are not possible in the larger offices.
 
“We focus on interesting matters, have lots of opportunities to work on interesting cases and are situated for easy communication in terms of time difference with other parts of Europe, New York and Asia. The Frankfurt office has a lot in common with the London and Paris offices in the way we handle working with laws of multiple jurisdictions. When we work together, we have a dedicated European focus, but that is not our only focus,” said Feuring.
 
He hopes to continue to grow the practice with the addition of a few new lawyers a year, to match pace with the growth of the practice areas in which the office specializes. Any associate with some knowledge of the German language and interest in capital markets, M&A or financing is encouraged to contact one of the Frankfurt partners.
 

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