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Legal market overview
In 2012 the effects of the financial crisis were still keenly felt by the legal profession, and exacerbated by ongoing problems in the Eurozone. Competition remains tough, particularly among the leading firms, and after the demise of Howrey LLP the market lost another major international law firm when Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP ceased to exist. Meanwhile, clients who are exposed to growing requirements in the fields of compliance, risk management and corporate governance are, in turn, becoming ever more demanding with a consequent pressure on fees.
However, many perceive that the German market still offers opportunities, and Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP and Pinsent Masons LLP opened offices in the country, while a number of other firms extended their German office network, among them Jones Day opening in Düsseldorf and McDermott Will & Emery Rechtsanwälte Steuerberater LLP in Frankfurt.
Contentious advice is an increasingly significant feature of legal instructions, and in certain areas it has been the government itself fostering this growth with increased scrutiny of certain industries or changes to regulations. For example, Germany’s new energy policy has led to a flood of instructions. Another emerging trend is clients’ desire for lawyers with sector-specific expertise to pursue targeted investment strategies, and some firms have been able to prosper by advising the influx of Asian investors, particularly from China, and carving out a lucrative niche in advising on IPOs by Chinese companies in Germany. Unsurprisingly, the restructuring of public banks and advice on financial market stabilisation again kept lawyers busy in 2012. On the restructuring and insolvency side, the German Act for the Facilitation of Company Reorganisations became effective in March 2012, bringing major changes to the German insolvency code. The intention is to streamline the process, and initial impressions are positive. Further plans are afoot to revise the European insolvency regulation, which will be another growth area for advice.
Patent lawyers have been in the spotlight more than ever due to highly publicised battles regarding consumer electronics such as smart phones and tablets. The competitive IP market has been further fuelled by the new EU patent, which will – once it comes into full effect – be valid across 25 European countries. This will provide opportunities and challenges for large international firms and IP boutiques alike.