Kirkland & Ellis eyes German opportunity

The US corporate law firm’s European private equity practice is mulling plans to open an office in Germany by 2004.

Kirkland & Ellis, the US law firm, is looking to open an office in Germany, just as many practitioners give up on what has proven one of Europe’s more slowly developing private equity markets.

While the number of private equity professionals in Germany has shrunk by a third in the last year, according to OECD figures, Thomas Verhoeven, who leads Kirkland & Ellis's German practice based in London, remains upbeat, if cautious.

Commeting on the firm's plans, he said: “Germany has been a disappointment, but the situation may change. Basle II is pushing a lot of firms to private equity, instead of the banks. Secondly, we’ll see more sales by companies in distress. We are quite optimistic.”

Verhoeven is currently evaluating the case for opening his firm’s doors in Germany and expects a decision to be made by the end of the year. If it is positive, then an office could be up and running by the end of the first quarter of next year.

Kirkland & Ellis has been determinedly building its European private equity business. Its US franchise is well established. In 2002 and 2003 the firm won the Chambers and Partners 'International Private Equity Law Firm of the Year' award. In the American Lawyer, it is ranked the number one firm for buyouts in the US.

Clients like Goldman Sachs, Madison Dearborn Partners, Bain Capital, UBS Private Equity and Citicorp Venture Capital, Cinven, CVC Capital Partners have helped the firm make good progress in Europe.

Kirkland advised US-based Madison Dearborn in the $4bn acquisition by tender offer of the Jefferson Smurfit Group. It also advised the management team on the buyout of DB Capital Partners, the private equity arm of Deutsche Bank, which is now known as MidOcean Partners.

Before joining Kirkland in December 2000, Verhoeven was the head of the New York office of Oppenhoff & Radler, the German corporate law firm, which was acquired by Linklaters.