Law firm DLA Piper to exit Russia as industry divide deepens

DLA Piper, a UK law firm with a big operation in Russia, plans to quit the country, deepening an industry split between those joining the wider corporate exodus and others staying to advise clients amid the economic crisis engulfing the country.

One of the world’s highest-grossing law firms intends to transfer its Russian business, which has roughly 200 staff and offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Petersburg, into the hands of its local partners to create an independent group with no ties to its former parent, according to two people familiar with the matter.

It is not the only big corporate law firm planning to exit Russia. New York-based Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, which previously advised sanctioned billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, is also winding down its Russia office, according to a person familiar with the matter. It will retain a small number of support staff on the ground to facilitate that exit.

Since Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine last month, hundreds of western companies have either announced plans to leave or suspended their operations as outrage over the invasion grows. Multinationals providing essential goods such as food, are among only a handful of groups to publicly declare their intention to stay.

Among the top corporate law firms with operations in Russia, a minority have decided to stay to advise clients on their own exit strategies from a country that faces a wave of sanctions and the prospect of a severe recession.

Dentons, one of the world’s largest law firms and among the first to enter Russia, intends to remain in Moscow. The group, which has a staff of about 250 there and whose clients have previously included state energy group Gazprom, is concerned about the risk of reprisals against its workforce if it pulls out abruptly, according to people familiar with the matter.

Dentons said it was “focused on our people, who bear no responsibility for the actions taken by their government, and our clients, who need advice regarding their business affairs in Russia, including how to wind down those operations.”

Baker McKenzie, a Chicago firm that has previously advised the Russian finance ministry on bond offerings, is also remaining in the country for now but is keeping its office under review. Dentons and Baker McKenzie have said they will not act for groups with any ties to the Russian government.

However, the decision by some firms to stay to advise companies on leaving Russia was questioned by the head of one large UK-based group that was winding down its operations in the country.

“We are advising very large multinational companies on exiting Moscow and while some of that is being done in Moscow for now, some is being done in the UK, or Germany,” he said. “You’ve got to stand up for what you believe is right.”

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