More law firms exit Moscow as Russia wages war in Ukraine

A general view shows the skyscrapers of the Moscow International Business Centre, also known as "Moskva-City", during sunset in Moscow, Russia April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
  • Freshfields, Latham & Watkins among latest firms leaving Moscow
  • Moscow was home to more than 20 global law firms before war started

(Reuters) - At least six international law firms – Eversheds Sutherland; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Gowling WLG; Latham & Watkins; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Squire Patton Boggs – said Wednesday they are closing their offices in Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The firms each have offices in Moscow, while Eversheds Sutherland also has an office in St. Petersburg. They committed to transferring or ending their work in Russia while complying with professional obligations.

Also on Wednesday, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a Dallas-founded firm, said it is suspending operations in its Moscow office "pending further developments."

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Latham & Watkins did not say whether it has dropped clients due to the invasion or ensuing international sanctions. The U.S.-founded firm is representing Russia's VTB Bank in a New York federal lawsuit brought by the family of a U.S. citizen killed when a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The lawsuit accuses VTB and others of supporting rebels who allegedly downed the plane; VTB has called the claims against it "pure speculation."

A Latham spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

VTB Bank, Russia's second-largest bank, has become a top target of economic sanctions by Western governments. Freshfields this week said it was working to drop both VTB and VEB, another key Russian financial institution, as clients.

Morgan Lewis and Squire also said they have dropped Russian clients. Eversheds said it is not representing the Russian government, Russian state-controlled entities and oligarchs, "nor are we accepting any such mandates."

Gowling WLG, a law firm with roots in both Canada and the United Kingdom, said it will no longer work with Russian clients "sanctioned or not."

The firms have between 10-50 lawyers in their Moscow offices, according to their websites. Eversheds Sutherland has 50 employees in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Morgan Lewis, a Philadelphia-founded firm that lists 21 lawyers in Moscow, said many of its lawyers "who have previously practiced in Moscow will continue practicing with us in other jurisdictions and will continue to assist our global clients."

Eversheds Sutherland said in a statement its decision "is not a reflection on our valued colleagues" in Russia.

At least 20 international law firms were operating in Moscow before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, setting off waves of Western sanctions and triggering a mass exodus of Western businesses from the country.

London-founded international law firm Linkaters on Friday said it was closing its Moscow office. The global firm Norton Rose Fulbright followed suit on Monday. New York-founded Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton said Tuesday it is temporarily shutting down operations in Moscow, "pending further developments."

DLA Piper, one of the highest-grossing U.S. law firms, said Wednesday it was "undertaking a strategic review of our presence in Russia."

(NOTE: Updated with details on additional law firms.)

Read more:

Global law firms in Russia react to Ukraine invasion

(Additional reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen)

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.