10 Mar 2022

‘Simply the right thing to do’ – five more law firms announce departure from Moscow

Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance join ever-expanding roster of exiting firms; Winston chair cites ‘sense of solidarity with the Ukrainian people’

Panorama of winter Moscow. Сapital of Russia. Kremlin, Kremlin wall, churches, Grand Kremlin Palace. Moscow river under the ice.

FOTOGRIN; Shutterstock

Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) and Winston & Strawn have joined the ever-expanding roster of law firms shutting down their Moscow offices in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the space of just two days 11 top firms have announced the winding down of their operations in Russia, Latham and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer having announced their plans to unwind their operations yesterday along with four other firms. 

It also emerged today that Skadden – one of the few international firms with a presence in Moscow not to comment publicly on the invasion – has relocated its lawyers from Russia in the face of ‘increasing anti-American sentiment’, but will be maintaining a ‘limited administrative presence’ in Moscow, according to an internal memo seen by GLP.

Two firms – Cleary and Akin Gump – have temporarily closed their offices pending further developments while CMS last week put its office’s future ‘under critical review'.

Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper, Dentons and White & Case are yet to announce a change in the status of their offices, although all have spoken out against the invasion and provided details of their moves to review their Russia client rosters in light of the crisis.

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

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A&O said today that it was doing everything it could to support its 55 on-the-ground workforce and ‘where possible’ would redeploy staff elsewhere, ‘in particular with other A&O offices’.
  
‘A&O has had an office in Moscow since 1993, with many longstanding colleagues, so it is with regret that this has been made necessary by the illegal and senseless invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing humanitarian crisis,’ the firm said.

CC revealed its plans for ‘an orderly wind down’ of its office shortly after its Magic Circle rival. It has been in Moscow since 1991 and currently operates a team of four partners and 26 other lawyers.

As is the case with many international firms, its on-the-ground presence in Moscow has shrunk in recent years: the firm boasted 70 lawyers in 2014 at the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

HSF, meanwhile, described the closure of its 55-strong Moscow base as ‘a complicated process, being undertaken under difficult circumstances’, adding: ‘Our Moscow office has long been a valued and successful part of our business. We are working closely with the team there to support our colleagues who have been directly impacted by this decision.’

BCLP has one of the largest Moscow offices of any international firm with 17 partners and a total headcount of around 200. Country managing partner Andrey Goltsblat joined the firm back in 2009 to set up the office with a team of around 70 lawyers from Pepeliaev Goltsblat & Partners.

‘The wellbeing of our people continues to be very concerning to us, and it is difficult to part ways under such circumstances,’ the firm said. ‘Having been a part of BCLP since 2009, we are grateful for their dedication, friendship and contribution to our firm over the years.’

Winston has been present in Russia since 2005, and currently lists five lawyers as being based there.
 
"We are closing our Moscow operations out of a sense of solidarity with the Ukrainian people,’ said Winston chairman Tom Fitzgerald. ‘This decision is simply the right thing to do, and our clients understand and respect that.’
 
One firm taking a different approach to the crisis is Skadden. The firm still hasn’t commented publicly about either the invasion or its its approach to Russian client work. However, in an internal message Eric Friedman explained that Moscow-based attorneys had been relocated with remaining staff being supported by the firm as it transitioned the office to having a ‘a limited administrative presence to ensure our continued compliance with local laws’.

He added that the firm did not represent state-owned or state-controlled Russian businesses, had ended work with one Russian client who had been sanctioned and was ceasing to advise other clients likely to become subject to sanctions.
 

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