Freshfields is building presences in the German cities of Nuremberg, Mannheim and Hanover as part of its expansion of its Dieselgate-style mass litigation unit.
The bases add to the firm’s debut in Münster last year, and aim to realize efficiencies in Germany’s growing mass litigations market by locating nearer to regional courts, according to people at the firm. Though the firm has yet to put a figure on new hires, it expects additional headcount to number in ”the three digits”.
“We are trying to redefine what an office means to us,” said Hans-Patrick Schroeder, a disputes, litigation and arbitration partner at Freshfields. “We still see the office as a communal place where people meet and exchange ideas, but we’re extending the tether.”
While it is not common for Big Law practices to establish locations outside major centres such as Berlin or Frankfurt, the advent of flexible working arrangements has opened up new recruitment avenues and different styles of working.
“There are areas where some people want to live, without relocating to big cities, while at the same time, competition from Big Law is practically non-existent in these towns,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder was one of the partners to have guided Volkswagen through the court proceedings that spun out of the ‘Dieselgate’ emissions-cheating scandal that unravelled in 2015.
The locations will differ to the traditional office, as they will not directly serve clients, but will instead service the firm’s growing mass litigation unit. The locations have been selected for their proximity to regional courts that are now handling mass litigation.
“With mass claims, the real bottleneck is physically attending court,” Schroeder said. “If you can position a team in a location that does not require hours on the road, you gain efficiencies.”
Mass litigation is a steadily growing area in Germany, with several firms forming mass litigation units in the past year, including Fieldfisher in Berlin and Deloitte Legal (joining forces with German boutique firm Frommer Legal) in Munich.
Schroeder emphasised it is still early, so exactly how these new locations will take shape will take time, but he believes the system will provide an important conduit between working from home and “legacy offices”.
“You still have instill culture,” he said. “People want to get to know each other.”
‘Mass claims’ are becoming more prominent in Europe, and involve a looser set of legal designations than, for example, class actions, which entail more rigid conditions when it comes to court proceedings.
In February, KPMG Law said it was rolling out “recruiting hubs” in smaller offices across Germany, including Nuremberg, Bielefeld and Freiburg, citing the lack of other major law firms in the areas.