From Russia With Haste

Amid the growing pressure on Western companies following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, some law firms, realizing they had to do more than just divorce their clients, decided to wind down and eventually eliminate operations in the country completely.

At least 25 international law firms have said they plan to exit Russia entirely.

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In March, Allen & Overy said it would try to place 55 of its Russian colleagues in other offices as it wound down operations in Moscow. Morgan Lewis announced it would shift lawyers working in Moscow to other regions and then cease its Russian operations.

Others, like giant firms Dentons, DLA Piper, Baker McKenzie, and Clifford Chance, are taking a different approach.

Clifford Chance announced last month that it is closing its Moscow office and transferring all of its Russian work to a new independent firm, Bortkevicha & Partners. The new firm will be led by the Managing Partner of the Moscow office. It also plans to relocate some members of its Russian team to other locations, but that not everyone may be able to keep their jobs.

Meanwhile, Dentons announced in March that it would spin off its two Russian offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg into an independent firm. DLA Piper and Baker McKenzie left independent firms behind as well.

“We have enjoyed more than 30 years of collaboration and friendship with our colleagues in Russia who bear no responsibility for this crisis nor for the circumstances that have led to this decision,” said Dentons global Chief Executive Officer Elliott Portnoy in prepared remarks. “Our hope is that at a future time we will be able to come back together when it is lawfully and practically possible to do so.”

For the time being, however, Russia looks to be quite inhospitable to international firms in general. The country has even proposed countermeasures against exiting firms that could allow the government to take control of their assets and nationalize their property. Without significant regime change – or at least policy change – it is unlikely Western firms will return to Russia any time soon.