Freshfields Germany partner trio leave with team of associates to found public law spin-off

Three senior Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Germany partners are leaving the firm to establish a public law boutique with offices in Berlin and Duesseldorf.

The three partners are Berlin public affairs head Wolf Spieth, Duesseldorf environment and regulatory partner Herbert Posser, and Berlin disputes partner Benedikt Wolfers.

Wolfers co-heads Freshfields’ global environment product and regulatory group, while Spieth is joint head of the firm’s low carbon energy group.

The trio will be joined by counsel Burkard Wollenschlager and principal associate Niclas Hellermann, along with between five and 10 more associates from their practice groups.

The name of the new firm is as yet unknown. Spieth, Posser and Wolfers have been contacted for comment.

The move will leave Freshfields with three public law partners in Germany and one in Austria, supported by about 20 associates.

Freshfields’ Germany practice has seen a series of spin-offs in recent years as the magic circle firm moves to slim down its large offering in the country, a legacy of its mergers with Deringer Tessin Herrmann & Sedemund and Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Loeber in 2000.

The exits also come as part of a generational shift within Freshfields, as partners from its legacy firms begin to hit retirement age. The firm is looking to reshape its German partnership for the future and focus on more profitable work such as large deals, major investigations and disputes.

Last year, one former partner told Legal Week that the firm wanted to focus on “mega-deals and massive investigations… where they can use gigantic teams working around the world.”

Freshfields closed its Cologne office in 2016 and reduced its Germany partner count by 20% between December 2015 and May 2017, and it intends to shrink further still during the next two years.

Ahead of the latest exits, the firm’s Germany partner count stands at 100, and it is expected that this number will fall to between 80 and 90 by 2020.

Previous breakaways in Berlin include a four lawyer-team which left to found boutique firm Blomstein in 2016, where they were subsequently joined by public procurement partner Hans-Joachim Priess. The same year, four Hamburg lawyers led by regulatory partner Michael Schafer founded boutique firm Chatham Partners, while a five-strong team of associates left to set up Neuwerk.

Other more recent exits include former Berlin managing partner Annedore Streyl, who joined EY, as well as corporate partner and former Frankfurt head Britta Zierau and Hamburg tax partner Ulrich Blass, both of who left the firm in April last year.