russian escape

"But A&O managed to put its staff on a train."


As the UK's law firms leave Moscow en masse, four of Britain's most prestigious private client firms have all refused to clarify whether they will continue acting for ultra high net worth individuals associated with Putin's regime.

Macfarlanes, MTG, Harbottle & Lewis and Farrers have all kept it zipped. Withers did stick its neck out. "We are appalled by the invasion of Ukraine and will not act in any manner which assists the current Russian government regime", said the private client specialist. "We will consider not only whether we can legally act for clients but also, in the light of this commitment, whether we should in each instance. It goes without saying that we comply with all sanctions, together with our professional obligations", said Withers.

A large number of US firms have also said nothing: Cooley, Davis Polk, Fried Frank, Gibson Dunn, K&L Gates, Mayer Brown, Milbank, O'Melveny, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Vinson & Elkins, Skadden and Willkie Farr all failed to respond to requests for comment.

However, since RollOnFriday revealed last week where numerous firms stood on the invasion of Ukraine, many more have joined the legal profession's attempt to apply pressure to Putin's regime. With Russian authorities imprisoning critics of the war, firms with Moscow offices had good reason to delay commenting publicly until they understood the potential ramifications for their staff. Many are now shutting up shop.

DLA Piper would not comment, but insiders have told ROF the firm is about to close its entire Russia operation. Clifford ChanceBCLP, Allen & Overy, Eversheds Sutherland and Squire Patton Boggs have all confirmed they are leaving Moscow. So is Freshfields, in a volte face from last week when it was still attempting to obtain an licence so it could continue acting for the sanctioned VTB bank. After intense blowback, the firm said it was "deeply concerned by the loss of life and unfolding humanitarian crisis in Ukraine", and would not to act for entities with close ties to the Russian state, or with connections to the wider leadership regime, or "who play a role in supporting or facilitating the current Russian military action". That meant it was "immediately taking steps to terminate our litigation mandate with VTB".

"We are leaving Russia", said Gowling WLG, plainly. "This decision is grounded in our values and our deep sense of what is right", said the firm. "We are shocked and deeply concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Gowling WLG stands united with the Ukrainian people". As such, it said it would no longer accept new instructions from Russian clients, "sanctioned or not", and would "end relationships" with its existing Russian clients.

Latham & Watkins Managing Partner Rich Trobman confirmed that his firm was also out. "The unfolding humanitarian crisis is devastating to watch and we stand with so many in the world in condemning the violence in Ukraine and the needless human suffering taking place", he said.

Morgan Lewis is departing Russia as well. "Over the last two weeks, we have focused intently on our colleagues in Moscow, assisting them in addressing the disruption in their lives, potential threats to their safety, and in implementing their personal plans, including relocating to other jurisdictions where they have made that choice", said the US firm. "We join with others in condemning the Russian government’s aggression and violence that has caused unspeakable suffering to innocent people", it said.

On Thursday, Herbert Smith Freehills joined the flood of departing firms, stating that "We strongly condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and are appalled by the humanitarian consequences". HSF announced it was "bringing to an end any work associated with the Russian State", but just in case anyone thought it was closing down entirely, it clarified that "We continue to advise many clients around the world on the practical implications for their businesses".

Announcing it was closing its Moscow office, Baker Botts said, “We recognize the impact this will have on our valued colleagues in Russia”, but “in light of the situation in Ukraine, we see no alternative to winding down our operations”. 

Some haven't gone so far as to announce permanent closures. Cleary said it was temporarily shuttering its Moscow office and had been busy behind the scenes: "We have been exiting our engagements as counsel to Russian governmental and state-owned entities", said the US firm. "Pending further developments", Akin Gump is also suspending its Moscow operations. The US firm told RollOnFriday it was "deeply saddened and shocked by the events in Ukraine and the tragic and senseless loss of life of so many innocent Ukrainians", adding for the benefit of a fascinated audience that Akin Gump was "built by Robert Strauss, the last U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and the first U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation".

Expect Debevoise & Plimpton to exit soon. It said this week it was "conducting a review of the status of our Moscow office", and had "taken action to terminate several client relationships". (Update: on Friday afternoon it announced it was, indeed, leaving Russia, as did White & Case).

D&P said, "We have watched with alarm the rapidly unfolding tragedy in Ukraine. The images and stories coming out of Ukraine are heart-wrenching, and although we are all inspired by the courage of the Ukrainian people, more than anything we long for peace".

Several firms without offices in Russia spoke up this week to say they abhorred Vlad's deadly incursion and were vetting their clients accordingly. "We deplore the use of violence and the disregard for international law and human rights", Trowers and Hamlins told RollOnFriday. "We are currently reviewing any existing matters that are not aligned with our support for the rights of the Ukrainian government and the people of Ukraine and we will not accept any new clients that are owned by Russian or Belarusian individuals, corporations or by their governments", it said.

Slaughter and May is now a no-Russian zone. "We have no active Russian clients and will not be taking on any new Russian clients", said Slaughter and May Senior Partner Steve Cooke. "We are appalled by the attack on Ukraine by Russia and the human suffering that is occurring as a result. Like others in our community, we condemn the invasion and stand in support of the people of Ukraine", he said.

There has been a noticeable absence of ambiguity in many firms' statements this week, as images of dead children and reports of a shelled maternity ward convinced them there was no need to be circumspect. "We strongly and unreservedly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine", Morrison & Foerster told RollOnFriday. "It is horrifying to witness the impact this is having on millions of people and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Europe".

MoFo said that "Multiple internal communications have been sent over the past two weeks condemning the Russian regime’s actions, expressing our deepest sorrow for the Ukrainian people and mobilising our efforts to support them". Like Slaughters, the firm emphasised that "We have never had operations in Russia, have done very little work for Russian clients, and are disengaging from work for all such clients, subject to our professional obligations". And, like Slaughters, it's banning Russians: "We will not be taking on work for Russian clients going forward".

"We are shocked and deeply troubled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine", said a Reed Smith spokesperson. "The vast human suffering created in its wake is tragic". The US firm, which has no presence in Russia, is reviewing its "limited" Russia-related work "as well as new business acceptance criteria" to ensure compliance with "the rapidly evolving sanctions landscape, our legal and ethical obligations, and our firm values".

Quinn Emanuel told RollOnFriday it had been on the side of the angels for some time, having represented Ukraine and "significant Ukrainian banking institutions" in their legal disputes against the Russian Federation, "including concerning Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014". The firm said it closed its Moscow office in 2019 "in part because of our advocacy for Ukraine against the Russian Federation", and that "We are proud of our work for Ukraine and will continue vigorously to advocate on behalf of our clients’ interests".

Quinn said it was "not accepting instructions from any parties or interests connected with the current Russian regime, and we are looking to exit any existing engagements where possible in accordance with our professional obligations".

If Putin needed any more convincing, his war’s so unpopular that even offshore firms are backing away. 

Ogier has been acting for VTB bank in the BVI courts, where the sanctioned bank is seeking to obtain strategic industrial assets in Ukraine. Asked by RollOnFriday whether the firm was still acting for VTB, a chastened Ogier said it did not comment "on individual clients, or ex clients", but managed to get around that by confirming that it has "not applied for any licences to continue to represent any sanctioned entity in any court". Ogier said that, more generally, it was not taking on any work "related to or promoting the interests of the Russian state, or related to a supporter or enabler of Putin's leadership". 

Ogier said, "We condemn Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine", and that "We acknowledge our responsibility to act in response to it and in response to the humanitarian crisis it has caused". It said it was also, "where appropriate", winding down existing mandates, and that it was even future-proofing its business: "where we believe that a non-sanctioned person or entity may become sanctioned in the future, we will not assist in the structuring of their affairs which might frustrate those potential future sanctions", it said.

Fellow Jersey firm Carey Olsen said it "condemns the shocking events taking place in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding" and told RollOnFriday it was "undertaking a careful and thorough review of any matters that may have a Russian or Belarusian nexus to determine whether it remains appropriate for the firm to continue to act". It said that, "where necessary, we are terminating mandates", and that it would "not act for or promote the interests of the Russian regime, organs of the Russian state, or known supporters of the current Russian leadership". 

After coming under fire last week for appearing to retain its "Russian VIP" service, Mishcon de Reya defended its approach, explaining that it had assembled the Ukraine Justice Alliance. "We will continue to act for Russian clients who are not affected by sanctions in accordance with our regulatory obligations and ethical values, and also because we have not, nor ever will, discriminate based on nationality or anything else", said a spokesperson for Mishcon, adding that "some of our Russian clients are themselves the target of President Putin's government".

"We have a small number of Russian clients – they represent just over 1% of our client base", he said, adding that Mishcon "do not currently act for any Russian state owned entities" and "are not acting for any sanctioned clients".

Kirkland & Ellis said on Thursday, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic events in Ukraine, and our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people at this time. As a firm, we do not have a presence in the region, and we have reviewed our limited Russia-related matters to ensure they reflect sanction requirements and our values". 

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Comments

Anonymous 10 March 22 22:16

1% of a firm’s total number of clients can account for a lot more than 1% of a firm’s revenue. Potential investors in Mishcons will want to take a proper look under the hood to assess Russian risk.

Anonymous 10 March 22 22:55

Maybe not a good approach to announce your firm acts for targets of Putin’s government if you need to protect their confidential legal affairs. It’s not like the Russian government doesn’t hack anyone…

Anonymous 11 March 22 03:26

Are they leaving Russia as a point of principle or because there’s no legal market there now?

Will they also be leaving all the other regimes with a poor track record for human rights? 

Anonymous 11 March 22 03:38

Russia is threatening to seize the assets of foreign companies, which presumably includes computers. This could turn into a GDPR nightmare.

I hate the office. I hate WFH. I hate everything. 11 March 22 08:58

@Anonymous 10 March 22 22:16

Quite. Most prof services businesses get 80% of revenue from 20% of clients

Observer 11 March 22 09:03

What's going on with Hogan Lovells' Moscow office?  Why are they seemingly staying put while everyone else is going?

QE Partner 11 March 22 09:06

Of course we would never act for Russians. We are ethical lawyers who only act for nice people. Now excuse me I must now go and attend the grand opening of our new office in Saudi Arabia.

I hate the office. I hate WFH. I hate everything. 11 March 22 09:26

The headline and article is rather glib and ignores the Chinese elephant (or panda) in the room. It is difficult, with these statements on Moscow, to see how UK/US firms can, long-term, achieve their goals in China.  Any Chinese law firm relying on a UK/US firm is taking a risk that they too may be ditched when the wind turns. 

A more apposite headline might be:

'Magic Circle ditches Moscow - but firms maintain Uyghur and Hong Kong silence' 

 

Offshore 11 March 22 09:34

Good job RoF speaking with a couple of the offshore firms. Probably worth giving all of the big BVI firms a call just to make sure they're also dumping clients. My (long ago) experience with that jurisdiction is that there are plenty of service providers that would sell their own mother (tax free of course) if someone would pay.

The Maltese and Cypriot firms are of course the really tricky ones...

Anonymous 11 March 22 10:00

Shame on Cooley, Davis Polk, Dentons, DLA, Fried Frank, Gibson Dunn, Hogan Lovells, K&L, Mayer Brown, Macfarlanes, Milbank, O'Melveny, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Vinson & Elkins, Skadden and Willkie Farr and Withers.

You are the worst of the worst. Your names deserve to be chiselled on a stone plaque of disgrace. 

Agree with the failure to criticise the Chinese government - particularly on the part of  大成 Dentons (in case you're wondering, it's pronounced "We don't give a f*ck Dentons"). Also an utter disgrace to be participating in - and facilitating - modern day mass slavery and ethnic cleansing.

Even Jones Day, the guys who represent gun manufacturers, big pharma and big tobacco, pulled out of Moscow in 2019. Looks like Putin's regime is too dirty even for them.

 

Gannicus 11 March 22 10:37

Not a word about what will happen to the employees of any of these outfits. But then again the "I Support the Current Thing"  virtue signalling (while merrily acting for genocidal Chinese interests) is not about caring for anyone other than themelves.

The REAL victims 11 March 22 11:00

'Magic Circle ditches Moscow - but firms maintain Uyghur and Hong Kong silence'

 

Don't forget Palestine.

 

Everyone else does...

Anon 11 March 22 11:44

Not sure I follow the criticism of all US firms who did not bother replying.  Some on that list have no real Russian clients or offices, rather like K&E, and do not generally bother hiring UK PR teams to prepare press statements on all issues of the day.  

There is no obligation on every elite firm in existence to express a view on Russia if it is irrelevant to their operations, as oppose to the Magic Circle / subset of US firms who have been taking blood money for years.  That would be pure virtue-signalling.

Insider 11 March 22 14:36

I can confirm Jones Day are still acting for Russian interests, namely Gazprom and their Billionaire C-Suite. 

Anonymous 11 March 22 19:51

Funny how many firms never really had any Russian clients anyway all of a sudden. Pinkie promise.

AbsurdinessBrown 14 March 22 04:02

Demi Moore did a film with Sir Michael Caine that I expect will be used as a brilliant plan to deal with this.

Anonymous 14 March 22 08:48

Pretty sure the CIA would like at least one US firm to maintain a Moscow office as the iron curtain comes slamming down again.

Anon 14 March 22 09:21

Will be interesting to see what the firms do if China were to support Russia in evading sanctions/supply arms to Russia. The financial impact of pulling out of China would be enormous.

If firms were to do nothing in that scenario, it would expose their staggering hypocrisy (in fact, none of them has said or done anything in relation to Hong Kong or the Uyghurs to date).

abeer fekry 15 March 22 06:57

The best lawyers in Saudi Arabia, especially the best lawyers in Riyadh
https://www.alothmanlaw.sa/

 

Anonymous 15 March 22 17:39

@ Anon 14 March 22 09:21

 

OR about Palestine!

 

 

Which everyone always seems forget and which never gets mentioned, despite being the number one genocide in the world today.

Anonymous 15 March 22 19:14

It’s all rather problematic for the merry gang of Harbottles, Schillings, Carter-Ruck and Quinn Emanuel, among others.

https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/7bf35a30-d1a7-4505-9895-ad65934fbe6c

Miss Anonymous 16 March 22 09:01

Has Cleary actually made a public statement on this?  Does anyone actually believe the spin that Cleary is closing its Moscow office, albeit temporarily.    It would be no surprise to me if the the Moscow staff are working remotely as they would have done most of the pandemic and getting ready to work on a sovereign debt restructuring acting for the Russian government as it has always done, from multiple offices.  They should have wound down its Russian practice after the invasion of Crimea, but doubled down, and this response to Russia’s full invasion, and appalling war crimes,  is a morally bankrupt holding pattern.  Cleary takes pride in being Putin’s go to law firm, and that won’t change any time soon.

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