07 Mar 2022

Norton Rose Fulbright to close 50-strong Moscow office

International giant will wind down Russia operations 'as quickly as we can' and donate profits from ongoing work

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Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) is to shut its 50-strong Moscow office and wind down Russian work connected with the regime as soon as possible in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The global firm has also pledged to donate any profits it makes from ongoing work it cannot immediately extricate itself from 'to appropriate humanitarian and charitable causes'.

'We are winding down our operations in Russia and will be closing our Moscow office as quickly as we can, in compliance with our professional obligations,' the firm said today. 'The wellbeing of our staff in the region is a priority. We thank our 50 colleagues in Moscow for their loyal service and will support them through this transition.'

The decision comes as international law firms with significant Russian operations and client bases scramble to respond to the crisis by calling time on their Russian work, even if it does not directly fall foul of escalating sanctions. 

UK Magic Circle firm Linklaters announced last Friday that it was closing its 70-lawyer Moscow shop, the same day that CMS put the future of its 20-lawyer office there under critical review. On Thursday, 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’.

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

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'Some immediate actions are possible and we are taking them,' NRF said in its statement. 'We are not accepting any further instructions from businesses, entities or individuals connected with the current Russian regime, irrespective of whether they are sanctioned or not. In addition, we continue to review exiting from existing work for them where our professional obligations as lawyers allow. Where we cannot exit from current matters, we will donate the profits from that work to appropriate humanitarian and charitable causes.'

NRF’s 50-strong Moscow office, led by corporate partner Valentina Gluhovskaya, has advised Russian and international clients on matters including M&A, joint ventures and complex disputes, particularly in the oil and gas, metals and mining, financial institutions, life sciences, transport and tech sectors.

According to Legal 500 the firm’s Russian clients include oil giant Rosneft, run by former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin and recently the subject of headlines when BP announced it was divesting its 20% stake in the company at an expected cost of up to $25bn. Another is Gazprom Neft, one of the country’s largest oil producers and refiners and one of 13 major Russian firms the US Treasury hit with sanctions at the end of last month in a bid to limit Russia’s ability to finance the invasion.

Today’s announcement by NRF comes after global chief executive Gerard Pecht posted a statement on LinkedIn on behalf of the firm’s leadership team last Tuesday expressing its ‘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.

Speaking to The Global Legal Post from his office in Kyiv on Friday, 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.”

 

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