Major law firms are cutting ties with Russian clients and even closing their Moscow offices as US and European sanctions hit blue-chip clients and Russia is cut off from parts of the global financial system.
Why is this important: Big Law is just one of many sectors fleeing Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine. But its exit could deprive Russia’s oligarchs and multinational corporations of vital services linking them to business and financial systems.
- American and European law firms have played a central role in integrating Russia into the global economy.
- Companies based in London, New York and other business hubs have brokered massive deals and structured billions in assets.
Driving the news: Axios contacted 30 major US and European law firms with offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg – some with hundreds of lawyers there – to see if they planned to maintain a presence in Russia.
- At least five companies – headquartered in London Connections, Norton Rose Fulbright and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; from Helsinki Borenius; and the American firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius — plan to shut down their Russian offices entirely.
- Another Swedish company Mannheimer Swartlingsaid it had suspended operations in Russia and “analyzed” whether to leave the country.
- Three Companies – New York Claire GottliebChicago Winston & Strawn and Amsterdam Houthoff – said they would drop all government and state-sponsored Russian customers.
- the New York one Debevoise & Plimpton said it has “taken steps to terminate several client relationships”, is not taking on new clients in its Moscow office and is “conducting a status review” of that office.
- white and case, another New York-based company, is keeping its Moscow office open, but officials said they “continue to review the business of our Russian and Belarusian clients and are exiting some representations in accordance with our job responsibilities.”
- Clifford Luckanother London-based firm, said it would not accept new work in Russia and would “review” existing work to ensure it complies with sanctions and “our principles and values of ‘responsible business’.
- Two other firms — that of London Allen & Overy and Hogan Lovellsco-headquarters in London and Washington – also said it would drop clients who don’t fit “our values”, but did not elaborate.
- Five other US and UK companies told Axios they were “reviewing” or “reviewing” their work in the country, but were less committed to next steps.
What they say : Supporters of tougher economic sanctions on Russia told Axios that the Great Law exodus could be a significant pressure point against Moscow.
- “It can only be good for democracy that they now leave Russia,” said Paul Massaro, senior policy adviser to the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – commonly known as the Helsinki Commission.
- Prominent global law firms have represented wealthy Russians and the country’s major corporations, not only on strictly business matters, but also on public relations, said Elise Bean, former staff director of the Standing Subcommittee on Senate inquiries.
- “If you cut legal advice to these guys, it will have tax, securities, investment and reputation management implications,” Bean told Axios in an interview.
Between the lines: Many of the companies scaling back their operations in Russia have worked extensively in the past with the pillars of the country’s economy, including companies hit by US and EU sanctions in the past two weeks.
- Almost all of the firms contacted by Axios said they carefully manage their Russian portfolios to ensure they comply with these sanctions – and drop customers if necessary.
- This past work has nonetheless drawn public attention since the Russian invasion, with media coverage and criticism from lawmakers of companies that have worked with Kremlin-aligned companies in the past.