CMS puts Moscow office under 'critical review' over Russia's 'brutal and unlawful' invasion of Ukraine

International giant known for strength of Eastern European network becomes third law firm to place future of Moscow arm in the spotlight
Berlin, Germany - March 29, 2019: Signage of CMS Hasche Sigle, one of the largest law firms in the world

CMS Hasche Sigle's office in Berlin Cineberg; Shutterstock

CMS revealed today that it has put the future of its Moscow office under critical review, making it the third international firm to publicly question whether it can remain in Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine invasion.

The firm has also started a review of its current work to ensure it ‘remains compliant with international sanctions and its principles and values’ in the face of Russia’s ‘brutal and unlawful’ invasion of Ukraine. It said it would no longer accept new instructions from Russian-based clients or from ‘any individuals with a connection to the Russian government’ in any jurisdiction ‘for now’. 

CMS’ Moscow office is led by managing partner Jean-François Marquaire and senior partner Leonid Zubarev and houses 21 lawyers, according to the firm’s website. The firm closed its 41-lawyer office in Kyiv on the day of the invasion and is currently providing relocation options for its employees within the EU. 

‘Since the start of the invasion, our utmost priority has been to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our colleagues and their families in Ukraine. Thankfully, all are currently safe and accounted for and we will continue to support them in any way possible,’ the latest statement reads. 

Last week, top 30 UK law firm Kennedys said it was in the process of closing its Moscow office, having taken the decision to wind down its operations last year as it was “uncomfortable with the direction the country was taking”. 

And yesterday, leading Swedish law firm Mannheimer Swartling  said it had relocated all of its Swedish lawyers based in Moscow ahead of plans to exit the Russian legal market ‘in an orderly manner’ with respect to its Scandinavian clients and Russian employees. 

Speaking to The Global Legal Post earlier today, Andriy Stelmashchuk, managing partner of Ukrainian law firm Vasil Kisil & Partners, called on international law firms to quit Russia in order to increase the economic pressure being applied on the Putin regime in response to the invasion.

"I am expecting all international companies to terminate their operations in Russia," he said, "otherwise they are paying for those bullets which are killing Ukrainian soldiers.”

After largely remaining silent during the first few days of the crisis, a succession of leading law firms have issued public statements setting out their position. Notably, on Wednesday, Magic Circle UK firm Allen & Overy pledged to refuse new Russian-related instructions and stop all Russia-linked work that goes against its values, while Ashurst said it was not acting for new or existing Russian clients, regardless of whether they are subject to sanctions. 

Yesterday, top Dutch law firm Houthoff said it was ditching the Kremlin as a client in a move that deprives the firm’s arbitration team of one of  its most high-profile relationships.

Hogan Lovells, Slaughter and May, White & Case, Linklaters and Baker McKenzie among many other firms reviewing their Russian client rosters. Norton Rose Fulbright's global chief executive, Gerard Pecht, published a statement on LinkedIn earlier this week expressing the firm's 'unequivocal' opposition to the invasion in a bid to draw a line under controversy surrounding an internal memo telling lawyers not to comment on Russian sanctions. 

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