15 Mar 2022

Baker McKenzie to spin out Russia arm it launched in Soviet era

First western firm to open in Moscow becomes one of the last to announce departure in face of Ukraine invasion

Baker McKenzie office

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Baker McKenzie has announced the spin out of its Moscow and St Petersburg offices into an independent law firm, completing the withdrawal from Russia of all but three of the major international law firms that were based there when the invasion of Ukraine began.

Some 130 lawyers and 260 staff in total are affected by the move, bringing to a close 33 years of operating in the country, which began in 1989 during the Soviet era when Bakers became the first western law firm to be accredited to open in Moscow.

‘We have made this difficult decision following ongoing consultation with our multinational clients, whose urgent on-the-ground legal needs we are serving, as well as careful consideration of the wellbeing of our many people in the wider region,’ Bakers said in a statement.

The firm added: ‘We thank, and will continue to support, the many partners, associates, business professionals and others who have worked so hard to build this business. Many have been part of the Baker McKenzie team for decades.

‘At the same time, we strongly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which stands in stark contrast to our values, the values of our clients and those of the wider global business community. We will not act for any individuals or entities that are controlled by, or directly linked to, the Russian state and/or current regime, anywhere in the world. We remain fully focused on the safety of our colleagues in Ukraine and the wider region.’

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More coverage of the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on the legal profession

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Bakers’ move comes the day after DLA Piper, Dentons and CMS announced they were also hiving off their Russia arms. It means that four of the firms with the largest Russia practices were the last to show their hands following a procession of withdrawal announcements over the last 10 days.

That is likely to reflect the logistical challenges associated with cutting ties with larger teams than any particular reluctance to withdraw from Russia.

Three firms, however, have left the door open to a revival of their operations. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Akin Gump have temporarily closed their offices pending further developments, while Skadden has relocated its lawyers from Russia, but will be maintaining a ‘limited administrative presence’ in Moscow.

Dentons, notably, expressed the wish that its departing Russia team will be able to rejoin the global giant ‘when it is lawfully and practically possible to do so’. 

The roster of firms exiting Russia include White & Case. Latham & Watkins, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Norton Rose Fulbright, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. 

Moscow, meanwhile, looks set to be the host of several new independent law firms, although with western sanctions continuing to escalate and multinational companies suspending their operations in growing numbers they will be opening in the most difficult of circumstances.

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