09 Mar 2022

Eversheds Sutherland to close Moscow and St Petersburg offices in response to Ukraine invasion

Russia exits gather pace as Gowling WLG also announces closure of Moscow arm

IRPIN, UKRAINE - Mar. 05, 2022: War in Ukraine. People cross a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, during heavy shelling and bombing

People crossing a destroyed bridge as they evacuate the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv Drop of Light;shutterstock

Eversheds Sutherland and Gowling WLG are pulling out of Russia, joining a growing number of international law firms calling time on their Russian operations in response to the Ukraine invasion.

Both firms have issued statements today to the effect that they will be winding down their Russian offices in an orderly manner.

The moves will collectively cut 70 lawyers from the two international law firms, alongside support staff. Eversheds Sutherland's 40 lawyers were spread across offices in Moscow and St Petersburg. Gowling WLG has a team of 30 lawyers and patent attorneys in its Moscow office, which focuses on IP work. 

Eversheds Sutherland's move comes less than a month after the firm was investing in its Russia practice – through the hire of disputes partner Evgeny Oreshin from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner – illustrating both how international law firms have been wrong-footed by the invasion, but also the speed with which some are responding to the crisis.

“This decision has not been made lightly, and is not a reflection on our valued colleagues in those offices, but we will not continue to operate in Russia given its government’s invasion of Ukraine,” a spokesperson said. “Our priority now is to support our 50 colleagues in Russia and to work together to ensure an orderly transition of the business in compliance with our professional obligations.’

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

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The top 10 UK law firm was a relative late comer to the Russian legal market, launching offices in Moscow and St Petersburg in 2017 with the acquisition of Nordic firm Hannes Snellman's Russia practice. It followed that up in 2019 with a merger with local law firm Tilling Peters, adding nine lawyers.

Led by managing partner Victoria Goldman – who joined the from Hannes Snellman – Eversheds Sutherland Russia hosts five other partners and 40 lawyers in total.

Last Friday (4 March), the firm said its Russia work was focused on advising multinational clients and it was not acting ‘for the Russian government or Russian state-controlled entities, nor are we acting for oligarchs’. It added that it ‘had reviewed our new client and matter acceptance procedures to ensure compliance with both our legal obligations and our internal policies and ethical standards’.

The decisions by Eversheds Sutherland and Gowling WLG to pull out of Russia follow similar moves by Norton Rose Fulbright on Monday and Linklaters last Friday, the same day that CMS – which has one of the most extensive CEE footprints of any international firm – said it had put the future of its Moscow office ‘under critical review’.

Yesterday, meanwhile, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton said it had temporarily closed the Moscow office it launched in 1991 ‘pending further developments, while continuing to support our Moscow colleagues’.

It added: ‘We have been exiting our engagements as counsel to Russian governmental and state-owned entities, in a manner consistent with our legal obligations to clients. The firm will continue to comply with U.S., EU and UK sanctions law in all its current and future representations.’
 

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