Solicitors governing body: Österreichischer Rechtsanwaltskammertag
Competition authority: Die Bundeswettbewerbsbehörde (BWB)
Financial regulator: Die Finanzmarktaufsichtsbehörde (FMA)
IFLR1000 ranking categories for this jurisdiction:
Energy and infrastructure (published June) - Energy and infrastructure
Financial and corporate (published October) - Banking and finance, Capital markets, M&A
The upper echelon of Austria’s legal market is dominated by the country’s larger domestic firms - Binder Grösswang, CHSH Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati, Dorda Brugger Jordis, Schoenherr and Wolf Theiss - with one exception in the form of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
A clear distinction can be drawn between the stronger domestic firms on the market: those that have expanded internationally into CEE (Central Eastern Europe) and, in some cases, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), and those that opted against this strategy. CHSH, Schoenherr and Wolf Theiss are the most notable proponents of an international model; Binder and Dorda fall into the latter category.
Looking at it from an Austrian context, there was a good rationale behind developing an international network. After the collapse of communism, Austrian businesses – most notably the larger banks and energy companies - expanded aggressively into CEE and, until the financial crisis, markets in the region were hugely profitable.
However, there are benefits to the local model too. Purely domestic Austrian firms can offer clients the greater flexibility of choosing which firms they work with in other jurisdictions. Firms can pick the best firm for any given mandate, or simply work with the leading local firm in a jurisdiction, if the circumstances are right.
Aside from Freshfields, only a few international firms have a presence in Austria, with most choosing to service their clients in the country from Germany. In terms of the size and calibre of their Austrian offerings, CMS and Baker & McKenzie also have significant practices.
Spin-offs from local and international firms in Austria are not uncommon in Vienna. Some lawyers are frustrated by the limited options for partnership; in other cases there are frictions about the direction or remuneration policy of firms. There are a number of recent examples of this trend. Schindler and Partners was formed by partners from Wolf Theiss and Schoenherr; the Vienna branch of Eisenberger & Herzog was established by lawyers from Freshfields in Vienna; and, Benn Ibler is a boutique established by a team from DLA Piper.
Ben Naylor - EMEA Editor
Baker & McKenzie Diwok Hermann Petsche, the Austrian branch of the international firm, is not especially involved in project development work in Austria, unless it relates to financing or the acquisition of projects. Alongside project finance advice work, it does however advise on energy licensing issues and it also represent clients in the energy sector in arbitration.
The firm’s recent work highlights are confidential but it has included a number of disputes for clients in the energy sector.
Binder Grösswang has an adept public law and regulatory team that is involved in large energy projects and assists in the course of firm’s deals to provide regulatory advice. In the context of the market more broadly the firm is best known for transactional work and recommended for project finance advice.
Clients recommend the firm for its work in the energy and infrastructure sectors. One who it represented on a gas project praises the team for several facets, “accuracy of legal work, excellent handling of work load - especially abroad - and promptness of reply”. Another, who the firm advised on a transport matter, says: “The lawyers are accessible, reply to correspondence promptly and are able to provide a commercial view on things where necessary and appropriate.”
The firm is involved one large energy project at present, advising the sponsor of a cross-border gas pipeline project
One of Austria’s bigger largest firms, CHSH Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati has a relatively extensive CEE network. In Austria, the Vienna office represents a number of multi-national clients in the energy sector, including OMV, the Austrian oil and gas company. Corporate work is typically where the firm is active in the sector and, although it is not a core focus, it is involved on project development and disputes.
The firm’s most significant project sees it representing Autostrade Tech in its involvement in a Russian toll road. One dispute sees the team representing ÖBB in court proceedings relating to a train accident, which a construction company is accused of causing.
CMS’ Austrian arm, CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz, is one of the country’s leading firms for energy and infrastructure work, with a strong focus on project development advice. Its expertise in public procurement and PPP (public-private partnership) projects are especially notable and the team is highly experienced in social infrastructure and transport projects.
Recent work highlights for the firm include advising ÖPP Deutschland as sponsor on a feasibility study for a hospital PPP in Salzburg and acting for EIB (European Investment Bank) as a lender on the development of Hauptkläranlage Wien, a waste-water treatment plant in Vienna.
Dorda's public and regulatory team often advises on competition or merger control issues for domestic clients in the energy and power sectors.
A notable recent mandate for the firm was its role for ENEL on providing a review of Austria’s regulatory regime for hydropower plants.
Fellner Wratzfeld & Partners has a strong public law practice with experience in oil and gas, social infrastructure, transport and utilities. The team’s area of expertise is environmental law, assisting with environmental impact assessments and the ramifications of these tests, including when disputes arise. The firm is often mandated to act on behalf of the state or state-controlled companies.
Client feedback is resoundingly positive. “An excellent state-of-the-art law firm with a very professional team and an expanding international network,” exclaims one senior counsel from an energy company. Another client agrees, singling out one partner in their reference. “They are reliable, provide excellent results and are easy to work with - Michael Hecht is key,” says the head of legal at another energy business.
The firm is providing environmental law advice on some of the largest social and transport infrastructure developments underway in Austria. One headline role was advising ÖBB-Infrastruktur, Austria’s federal railway company, as sponsor of the €3.3 billion Semmering Basistunnel. A second recent tunnel project sees the firm advising on the provincial government of Vorarlberg on connecting two municipalities in the Austrian state. The project - the first in the province to require an environmental impact assessment - is being contested and the firm is now defending the developer against the actions.
Austrian boutique Fiebinger Polak Leon & Partner has experience representing clients in the energy sector in contentious cases.
All its recent work is confidential. The matters include disputes over gas and electricity prices.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is focused on high value, high end work for corporates which invariably means it represents a number of large energy companies in the CEE region. The firm has energy regulatory experts in Vienna and, in addition to advising clients in the sector on commercial deals, the office is frequently involved in arbitration and disputes.
The majority of the Vienna office’s recent work highlights have been contentious matters acting on behalf of energy companies. Much of the work is confidential but the publishable roles include the team’s long running mandate, dating back six years, for EVN filing claims for reimbursement of grid access fees. It is also representing the power company in a dispute with Bulgaria and its national energy company over retroactive regulatory changes.
In the terms of greenfield project work, the Vienna team is working alongside other offices in the firm’s network on a port development in Georgia, advising the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development on the tendering of a BOT (build-operate-transfer) concession for the construction and operation of a deep sea port in Anaklia.
Schoenherr has some of the Austria’s leading public law and regulatory experts within its Vienna team. Within project development - environmental law including overseeing environmental impact assessments, planning permitting and public procurement - are three areas in which the firm’s Vienna office is strong. One of the country’s largest domestic firms, Schoenherr has offices in most major capitals in CEE.
Clients recommend the firm. One lists the team’s attributes as “accuracy of legal work, promptness of reply and value for money,” summing the team up as “excellent” and highlighting it as one of their preferred experts in Austria for granting environmental law permits. Another client who has worked with the firm on energy contracts and disputes, says: “The team has impressively deep sector knowledge and provides good quality advice in all jurisdictions in which I have used them. Bernd Rajal in particular stands out as a quick, sharp and extremely responsive.”
The firm’s recent project development highlights include significant energy, power and transport matters where it is acting for sponsors. One notable role sees the team representing TIWAG-Tiroler Wasserkraft, Austria’s second largest electricity generator, on the construction and operation of five hydro power plants - two hydro pump power storage plants and three river power plants - in the Tyrol. In the road sector, the firm is advising ASFINAG, the Austrian state road operator, on the development of two highways, the A5 (part of E461) and the S7 (part of the E66), in particular assisting with the environmental regulatory issues. Another of the firm’s transport related projects is the third runway at Vienna International Airport, where again it is acting for the sponsor, Flughafen Wien.
Baker & McKenzie Diwok Hermann Petsche, the Austrian arm of the US based firm, is recognised for capital markets and M&A advice in Vienna, and has an active investment funds practice.
A notable staffing change in Vienna was the departure of one of the office’s two capital markets partners, Philipp Spatz, who moved to Held Berdnik Astner & Partner to take up the post of managing partner. A new senior arrival was M&A counsel Edmund Schuster, who moved from an academic position at the London School of Economics.
A banking consultant gives the firm positive feedback, remarking: “Wendelin Ettmayer was precious during the M&A and exit process of my first company. Not only did he keep incredibly calm during heated meetings, he was also able to break down and explain each and every subject matter.”
In the banking area, the firm was involved in several mid-sized lending deals on the side of the banks.
In capital markets, the firm’s recent mandates have been a mix of regulatory advice and debt issues.
The firm’s M&A deals included representing ECO Business-Immobilien on Deutsche Wohnen’s takeover bid for the company and Valartis Bank on the sale of its Austrian banking business.
Independent Austrian firm Binder Grösswang, unlike some of its compatriots of a similar size and stature, never moved into Central Eastern Europe, opting instead to handle all its work exclusively from offices in Vienna and Innsbruck. Traditionally the team is known its strength in banking and finance work, including regulatory matters, syndicated lending and acquisition, project and structured finance, but in recent years it has earned a reputation for industrious M&A and private equity work.
Client feedback on the firm – particularly its corporate transactional work – is excellent. “Decisive success factor for an M&A transaction,” says the COO of an asset management company. “Excellent commitment; full understanding of the commercially important matters; flexible and practical,” notes a partner from an international law firm. Another lawyer says of the M&A group: “A great team to work with. They are super responsive, provide high quality work and, overall, are immensely pleasant to work with.”
Three clients highlight the work of Markus Uitz. “Markus is easy to work with and always accessible, providing helpful and commercially oriented advice of high technical quality,” says one. “Excellent young lawyer with full commercial understanding and deep knowledge of the law,” remarks another. Thomas Schirmer is another partner to elicit strong praise. “One of the great corporate lawyers in Austria,” says a partner at a US firm. “His work and way of dealing with clients is always excellent.” Finance partner Emmanuel Welten is noted for being “reasonable and pragmatic”.
In banking, the firm’s work highlights include several of the more complex mandates to emerge in Austria recently, related to restructuring the banking sector. One of these matters saw the firm representing the senior bondholders of Heta, the bad bank of Hypo Alde Adria, amid the bank being wound down under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD), which was effectively the test case for the legislation. The other saw the team acting for the Volksbank Wien-Baden and the Volksbank association in the groups’ restructuring. Its lending activity included assisting with financing the development of Rapid Vienna’s new stadium, and, advising TIWAG-Tiroler Wasserkraft on the €150 million project financing of a new a hydropower plant.
Equity capital markets work for the firm included several secondary offerings for lenders. It advised Oberbank on two capital increases, which raised around €164 million in total, and assisted Bank für Tirol und Vorarlberg on a €51 million public share offer. Highlights on the debt side, were a local counsel role for the underwriters of Uniqa’s €500 million floating rate bonds and a mandate to advise Bank für Kärnten und Steiermark on its first issue of additional tier 1 notes.
Notable recent M&A deals for the firm include several private equity transactions, including advising Macquarie on acquiring a 25% stake in Energie Steiermark and assisting Ardian when it bought DPx Holdings’ Exclusive Synthesis (ES) and Maleic Anhydride Intermediates & Specialties (IM) businesses.
bpv Hügel is the Austrian branch of the bpv law firm network, a group of firms based predominantly in Central Eastern Europe (CEE). The Vienna office has a strong corporate practice, experienced in M&A, private equity and restructuring transactions.
Clients recommend the firm for M&A advice. A client from a business in the medical sector which the firm advised on a private equity transaction says: “The firm provide very efficient advice that could be easily implemented. They proactively addressed issues while delivering on time and on budget. The most important element is that they are solution-oriented and not problem-oriented.” Another client of the M&A team remarks: “They deliver on time and are highly reliable. The quality is outstanding - Florian Gibitz produces excellent work.”
Another individual praised is capital markets partner Elke Napokoj. “She quickly understands problems and drafts 90% of the relevant topics to be addressed in a contract. She is very proactive and focussed without getting into unnecessary and complex discussions,” explains a client.
The firm’s recent deal highlights included advising Bawag on its acquisition of VB Leasing Group from wind-down business, immigon portfolioabbau, and acting for Cemex on its disposal of its operations in Austria, Hungary and Croatia.
CHSH Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati is among Austria’s leading and larger firms, with a relatively extensive network of Central Eastern Europe (CEE) and South Eastern Europe (SEE) offices, encompassing branches in neighbouring countries’ capitals from Prague to Sofia and, uniquely, in Minsk.
Capital markets - both debt and equity - work is an area where CHSH is recognised for being among the best firms in Austria. It has an impressive client list of large Austrian multi-nationals, including many of the country’s largest listed companies such as OMV and Telekom Austria, as clients, and corporate transactional advice in general is another strength. In recent years it has also demonstrated its proficiency in banking regulatory matters having worked on some complicated bank restructurings.
One client, a CFO from an international NGO, strongly recommends the firm for corporate and M&A work. “The firm has an excellent corporate and M&A team of lawyers, in particular Albert Birkner. He and his team have a very broad knowledge base which allows them to advise on the full range of legal aspects of the transaction. They are very flexible and provide hands-on advice and are always helpful in suggesting solutions. Albert Birkner needs to be singled out. He is highly experienced and possesses outstanding transactional capabilities.” The finance team is praised by an in-house counsel at a bank for the “excellent knowledge and service oriented work of the partners,” highlighting Peter Knobl particularly for his “excellent knowledge in all banking related fields”.
Work highlights for the team in the banking area include advising steel company Voestalpine on a €900 million refinancing; assisting one of the country’s larger lenders with a syndicated loan to a pan-European company; and advice to Immofinanz in regards to funding its €604 million purchase of around a quarter of CA Immo, which was achieved through raising a combination of bank and bond debt.
In the capital markets space the firm has had a number of different mandates related to the restructuring and consolidation within the Austrian commercial real estate sector. The team advised Immofinanz on several transactions: its exchange offer to bond holders to convert the debt into shares in Buwog, a part of its business it spun-off in 2014, and a convertible bond issue which the company used to partly finance its acquisition of CA Immo. In related work, it has assisted CA Immo with two post-merger bond issuances, valued at €175 million and €150 million.
The firm’s - and one of the country’s - largest recent M&A deals was the aforementioned Immofinanz acquisition of 26% in CA Immo for €604 million, where it represented the buyer. Among other notable M&A activity for the team were roles for OMV when it sold a chain of petrol stations in Czech Republic and Samsung when it bought Austria-based, Magna Steyr Battery Systems.
CMS Reich-Rohrwig Hainz, the Vienna office of CMS, has a strong project finance and M&A practices and sector expertise in banking, energy, and infrastructure.
A senior staffing change at the firm saw banking and finance lawyer Roman Hager join Wiedenbauer Mutz Winkler Pramberger.
Feedback on the firm is positive. A client from the banking sector says: “They provided us with outstanding legal support on various financial and corporate matters in recent years. The lawyers have excellent knowledge of the banking sector and outstanding legal competence and negotiation skills.”
Several individuals are mentioned by a client. “Günther Hanslik performs exceptionally, and gives brilliant legal advice always tailored to the client's needs. Anna Konopka, Alexander Raklosi and Lisa Oberlechner have all also provided excellent service to our company.”
In banking a highlight for the firm was its advice to UniCredit Bank Austria and Deutsche Pfandbriefbank when the duo extended a €300 million facility to Immofinanz.
In capital markets the team’s notable work included acting for JP Morgan and Citigroup in relation to Heta and buy back offers to holders of debt instruments in the bad bank.
Among the firm’s M&A highlights were roles for Union Asset Management on the acquisition of Volksbank Invest and AMCS Industriebeteiligungs when it sold Ventrex for €150 million.
Despite not having an office outside Austria, Dorda is one of Austria’s internationally recognised law firms. It has a reputation for high quality capital markets work and is considered one of the country’s top public M&A experts. Several of its partners are talented finance (structured, debt capital markets and project) specialists, and the high quality of its lending work should not be ignored.
Clients who have used the firm for a range of corporate transactional advice (M&A, equity capital markets issues, competition, restructuring, private equity) recommend the firm. “Dorda did a great job helping us analyse, structure and implement the transaction,” says the managing partner of a consultancy firm which worked with the firm on an M&A deal. “Their work was very detailed while always keeping an eye on the commercial aspects of the transaction. Their efficiency, experience and business acumen made the transaction a great success.” An in-house counsel from a travel business that sought the firm’s M&A advice notes: “I have found this firm to be hard working and responsive. It provides solid commercial legal advice at affordable rates and the team are a pleasure to work with.”
Various partners are singled out by clients. “Christoph Brogyányi is an excellent capital markets lawyer, very accessible and always willing to help and bring in the right experts,” says one. Another compliments Martin Brodey, saying: “Martin really knows his stuff, is pragmatic in his advice and a pleasure to work with.” Bernhard Rieder is also praised. “His diligence, experience and business acumen make him an exceptional lawyer and person to work with,” says a client.
The details of the firm’s recent banking work are confidential. The mandates included advice to various domestic and international banks on facilities for acquisitions and general corporate purposes.
The firm’s recent publishable capital markets work include acting for UBM on an €80 million capital increase on the Vienna Stock Exchange (VSE), and assisting Austrian construction company Porr and its former subsidiary PIAG Immobilien on spinning off the real estate activities of the Porr into PIAG Immobilien and listing it on the VSE.
In M&A the firm’s notable recent mandates included assisting bauMax with various divestments across Central Eastern Europe as part the DIY chain’s restructuring, and advising investment groups KKCG and EMMA Capital on the takeover of Casino Austria.
Fellner Wratzfeld & Partner specialises in banking regulatory and restructuring and insolvency (R&I) advice and ancillary transactions made necessary for creditors or debtors when a business is in, or close to, an insolvency situation, such as debt restructurings, divestments, and NPL sales. The firm is number of Austrian lenders preferred counsel for R&I and regulatory advice.
The firm saw two senior changes in the research period. Felix Oberdorfer left to join Kerres Partners and Bernhard Koeck, whose focuses include banking and finance, was hired as counsel.
A client from the banking sector recommends the firm for restructuring and insolvency work. “Outstanding advice. We have a long-lasting cooperation. They have a very good network and access to key players in the legal environment,” is their feedback. Another client, who the firm provided regulatory and financial restructuring advice, says: “We are very satisfied with their work. In particular because our main contact, Gregor Schett, is available on short notice and his advice is very accurate and practical.”
The firm’s recent banking highlights included advising OMV on financing its takeover of gas supplier EconGas, acting for UniCredit Bank Austria on restructuring an acquisition financing provided for the purchase of Wien Mitte; and, assisting Erste Bank on the restructuring of a financing for Media Logistik.
In M&A, the firm is representing Casinos Austria in the company’s attempted takeover by Novomatic and a Czech investor, and advising SPAR on the acquisition of more than 25 former branches of Zielpunkt, an insolvent Austrian food retail business.
Fiebinger Polak Leon & Partner is recognised for M&A work. Industrial packaging is sector where the firm has recent experience.
A recent staffing changes at the firm saw corporate partner Markus Moser leave to launch his own boutique, Moser Legal.
Most of the firm’s work is confidential. One publishable deal was its advice to Dunapack Packaging on the takeover of corrugated cardboard producer in Greece, Viokyt Packaging.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has a strong financial and corporate offering in Vienna, with a team comprising talented banking and finance lawyers, with expertise in structured products, and experienced M&A specialists. Generally, the Vienna office is ensured a steady stream of mandates from the firm’s substantial German client base and it benefits from a support network of various offices across the neighbouring country, in addition to the firm’s wider global reach, which is unrivalled in Austria.
Several clients remark on the quality of the firm’s corporate finance and project finance advice. A senior director at an international banks commends the team for its “good expertise in English law finance documentation”. A client from an Austrian lender which works with several leading firms in Austria, says: “Each of the firms is very good, but Freshfields is outstanding.”
In terms of individuals, clients are impressed by Florian Klimscha, describing his work as excellent, and Blair Day is recommended too.
In the banking area, the firm’s recent headline work, which was confidential at the time of going to press, has mostly related to bank restructurings, with the team assisting several lenders with divesting of NPL portfolios and also on more wholesale restructurings of business lines.
Capital markets highlights for the firm of late have predominantly been on the debt markets, but it was involved in a rare recent IPO of an Austrian company, when domestic drug-maker, Nabriva Therapeutics, launched on Nasdaq, raising $92 million. The team’s notable debt capital markets transactions included advising Barclays as underwriter on OMV’s two-tranche €1.5 billion hybrid bond issue. Another recent bond transaction saw the team advising Novomatic on a €300 million issue.
Recent M&A work for the firm included several private equity deals. For example, advising One Equity Partners on the divestment of Duropack Group to DS Smith for €310 million. In the energy sector, a notable deal sees the team representing EVN in the sale of a water treatment plant in Moscow to Mosvodokanal, the city’s water company, for €250 million.
Graf & Pitkowitz is recognised for banking regulatory and project finance work.
In the current research period all details of the firm’s banking and finance work are confidential.
The M&A department picked up interesting deals recently, acting for Lukoil when it merged its holding company in Amsterdam with Lukoil Lubricants International Holding in Vienna an advising Zinkpower on the acquisition of Peter Lössl.
Austrian corporate boutique Hauser Partners is recognised for M&A, anti-trust and competition advice.
A client from a packaging group the firm advised on an M&A deal is impressed by the team. “We use Hauser Partners as lead counsel in international transactions (often without any Austrian angle) and they have an in-depth knowledge of our industrial sector. Wulf Gordian Hauser is a very experienced lawyer and can deal with very diverse cultures (Europe, Korea, Russia, Egypt, Ivory Coast). He has excellent know-how on transaction documentation, supply agreements and joint ventures.” The client praised Hauser further, remarking: “He is extremely resilient, working round the clock; he is always constructive and solution oriented, and can deal with enormous stress and complexity without getting confused.”
Another partner at the firm to receive praise is Peter Blaschke who is lauded for being “a strong corporate lawyer and good in drafting contracts”.
The firm’s deal highlights included acting for Mondi Group on the acquisition of KSP.
Pelzmann Gall, EY’s legal representative in Austria, focuses on corporate transactions – primarily M&A and restructuring – and employs one of the country’s leading public M&A specialists in name partner Mario Gall.
The firm’s recent M&A highlights include advising Bonus on the purchase of Victoria-Volksbanken Pensionskasse and Vorsorgekasse, and acting for SVI, a Thailand listed business, on the acquisition of Seidel Electronics.
PHH Prochaska Havranek is recommended for banking work, including lending and debt restructuring, and advises on mid-cap M&A and private equity transactions.
Recent staffing changes at the firm saw Ivana Dzukova join from Fellner Wratzfeld & Partner and Elke Sagmeister leave.
A private equity client of the firm describes it as “highly professional and quick” and adds: “They do the necessary.”
Individual praise is given to Nicolaus Mels-Colloredo who is said to be an “excellent practitioner and very particular on details”. Hannes Havranek was described as a “highly efficient and smart senior partner”.
In banking, the majority of the firm’s work remains confidential. A publishable deal included acting as Austrian local counsel to VTB Capital in on the financing of Sacturino’s $9 billion cash offer for shares in Polyus Gold, the largest gold producer in Russia.
In M&A, the firm advised HSO Holding on the acquisition of shares by two investors in its subsidiary, HSO Health Care.
Vienna based boutique Rautner specialises in banking and finance work.
The firm made two notable additions to its staff in 2016. One of the new hires was former Schoenherr partner Walter Gapp who joined in the same position. Gapp is a financial services regulatory specialist and experienced – and recommended for – as counsel on regulatory capital issues. The other new hire was Meera Ramakrishnan who joined as partner from another Austrian boutique. She handles a range of financial and corporate work.
A law firm partner who cooperated with Rautner on real estate finance deal says: “The firm gives good, practical and client-friendly advice at an excellent price.” The lawyer highlights name partner Uwe Rautner for his “very good, practical and commercially minded approach”.
The firm’s recent deal highlights included acting for Unicredit Bank Austria in relation to the refinancing a real estate portfolio for MTK in Slovakia, and advising Merkury Market on financing the acquisition of assets owned by Baumax in Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Vienna boutique Schindler Attorneys is recognised for finance work – both lending and debt capital markets – and M&A and private equity deals.
A new arrival at the firm was M&A specialist Lukas Rhomberg, who joined from Sicherle as of counsel.
Client feedback on the firm is positive. One, who the firm advised on a high-yield bond issue, says: “Great understanding of corporate finance and tax structuring matters. Getting both disciplines out of one firm is especially beneficial and puts them is a unique position compared to other firms of their size. They are not cheap but worth the money.” Another client, who the firm has represented in M&A transactions, says: “Our deals were managed by partners Clemens Schindler and Florian Cvak, who were both excellent. They focused on timely closing while still being able to maximise value for the acquisition party. They are experienced in the industry (hospitality and logistics), realistic and practice oriented.”
Firm founder Schindler is also praised for being “the main reason why the firm stands out compared to other firms in the country”. The client adds: “He is always available, has extensive knowledge in M&A and receives strong references in Austria.” Martin Abram is lauded for being “calm and very knowledgeable”. A client from the biotechnology sector adds: “Martin has excellent responsiveness, he is excellent in all ways.”
Recent banking and finance highlights include acting as Austrian counsel to a US client when it borrowed €500 million from a banking syndicate; advising OAS Group a €1 billion corporate bond restructuring; and, acting for a Brazilian client when it negotiated a $400 million syndicated loan.
In the M&A space, the team has been advising financial sponsors and corporations on acquisitions. Its involvement in the deals was confidential at the time of publishing.
Domestic firm Schoenherr is one of the leading and largest firms in Austria, with a number of international offices in Central Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Corporate work and M&A are the firm’s traditional specialty, and areas where it is viewed by some as unsurpassed in Austria in terms of experience. It has strong finance capabilities too, with partners experienced in regulatory work, large debt restructurings and international capital markets issues.
The firm saw a significant staffing change in early 2016 when highly regarded banking and capital markets partner Walter Gapp moved to banking and finance boutique Rautner.
One client highlights the firm’s experience in advising on regulatory capital instruments. “They have very good expertise on Austrian AT1 [additional tier 1] issues and the capital requirements for Austrian financial institutions,” says the head of a legal team at an international bank, who had been working with Gapp. A senior director at a financial services organisation, which uses the firm for derivatives advice, describes it as his “go-to firm in Austria”.
The firm’s recent banking work includes several important bank restructuring mandates. One saw it representing Österreichische Volksbanken-Aktiengesellschaft (ÖVAG), the central institution of the Volksbanken Verbund, amid the restructuring of the regional banking group after it failed ECB stress tests. Another was the attempted resolution of the situation between Hypo Alpe Adria - through its bad bank, Heta – and bondholders in the defunct lender. The state, represented by Schoenherr, recently offered to buy bond holders debt at 75% of the value but the offer did not receive sufficient bond-holder’s approval. The team has also been involved in a number of NPL (non-performing loan) sales, including a divestment of an €495 million portfolio by Volksbank Romania.
Recent capital markets highlights for the firm include a mix of debt, equity, structured finance and securitisation work. It represented the underwriters on the Nasdaq IPO of Austrian biotech company, Nabriva Therapeutics; assisted ATU Auto-Teile-Unger on three rounds of high-yield issuances across 2015; and, is a working for a lender on a synthetic securitisation.
The firm’s M&A specialists have been involved in advising on the corporate aspects of both the Heta and Volksbank work described in the firm’s banking highlights. Additional recent notable transactions include acting for Rohrdorfer group on its acquisition of Cemex's operations in Austria and Hungary for €160 million and for DPx Fine Chemicals Austria on the sale of the business divisions Exclusive Synthesis (ES) and Maleic Anhydride Intermediates & Specialties (IM).
Taylor Wessing’s Vienna office is recognised for M&A and real estate work.
New arrivals at the firm include Johannes Schmutzer who joined from Sberbank Europe.
In banking, the firm acted for an investor on refinancing various real estate projects in Austria.
In M&A, the team advised the former shareholders of the Austrian K+K Hotels Group on the sale of its holding and operating companies to a joint venture of Goldman Sachs and Highgate Hotels, and represented Tranquini on an equity investment by German investor.
Weber & Co is recognised for capital markets expertise – both regulatory and transactional – and often mandated by banks on significant deals Austrian deals.
A notable new addition to the team during the research period was counsel Maximilian Jacob who was hired from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Vienna branch.
A client who has used the firm exclusively for several years for Austrian work says: “We regularly consult them on all relevant legal aspects for our business, including in particular corporate work, M&A and competition law. The team is very client orientated, with hands-on practical advice based on profound legal knowledge. They have extremely quick response times and truly understand what we ask from them.”
Partner Christoph Moser is praised by clients. “Christoph is one of the best Austrian lawyers in the field of banking and capital markets as well as M&A. It is a pleasure to work with him. His gentle attitude is of strong benefit for his clients,” says a general counsel from a bank. Another client remarks: “He has significant industry know-how, a sharp mind and creative ideas for difficult situations. He is someone who keeps calm even in the middle of a perfect storm. Even if times get tough, Christoph is always there with a valuable legal advice.” Katharina Kitzberger is noted for being “an important advisor in terms of competition and trade law”. The client adds: “She is very business-focused and explains complex issues in a very practical and easy-to-understand way.”
In banking, the firm represented several clients on refinancing in the course of restructurings, including Bene group and Landesbank-Baden-Wuttemberg.
Capital markets highlights included acting as issuer's counsel to OMV on its €1.5 billion hybrid bond issue and an update to it MTN programme.
WMWP is recognised for M&A work.
Recent staffing changes at the firm included senior counsel Roman Hager joining from CMS Reich-Rohrwig and partner Michael Pramberger leaving for Specht Anwälte.
A recent deal for the firm saw the team advising ABS Global Factoring on the acquisition of VB Factoring Bank.
Wolf Theiss is a large Austrian firm with a network of offices across Southern and Central Eastern Europe. In Vienna the team is strong across all areas of transactional work, boasting a team including lawyers with expertise in banking regulatory, debt capital markets, project and structured finance, and M&A work.
A new hire for the firm in the banking and finance area is counsel Leopold Höher, who was recruited from Schoenherr.
The M&A team received a significant amount of positive feedback during this research cycle, with several clients empathising the quality of work and impressive way the firm interacts with its foreign branches. One partner from an international firm gives a thorough evaluation of Wolf Theiss’ domestic and regional corporate and M&A group, and its Vienna-based practice head. “Horst Ebhardt and his team in both Vienna and across South-Eastern Europe [SEE] are very responsive, efficient and proactive. They identify what issues my client and I should be looking for, and always meet deadlines with useful, commercial advice. They are clearly the most modern and commercially oriented of the big Viennese firms. Wolf Theiss is not the cheapest option out there, but clearly one of the best in Austria and across SEE. I go to them for help when I know I don't want to let down the client, even if Wolf Theiss is a competitor of my firm in several markets around Central-Eastern Europe [CEE].” An executive director at a leading investment bank was also impressed. “Very responsive, professional service. The Vienna office worked seamlessly with their Croatia office.”
Another client – a general counsel at an international oil company – who uses the firm for corporate finance and restructuring work in addition to M&A, says: “Wolf Theiss offer competent and very responsive lawyers in all relevant fields. Our key contact partner is aware of all matters pending and never loses sight of the commercial interests of our group of companies. They are very solution-orientated when faced with challenges.”
In further praise for Ebhardt, his aforementioned client explains: “Horst is one of the best lawyers in CEE. Acting as my Austrian or SEE counsel, he is able to put his ego aside and work alongside me as a partner. I really feel his proactive and commercial thinking adds a lot of value for me and my clients.” Other M&A partners to receive plaudits include Michael Lind, who a client says is a “good professional and business-orientated”, and Christian Hoenig, who is given the following assessment: “He is very experienced, has a firm knowledge of the law and provides full and timely support in transactions. It is good to have him on our side of the negotiation table.”
In the banking area the firm has been involved in a mix of lending and regulatory work recently. The highlights include advising Interritus and Trinity Investments on the acquisition of part of state-controlled lender, Kommunalkredit Austria, and advising a group of more than 30 creditors challenging the decisions made in regards to Austrian bad bank, Heta.
In the capital markets area, the firm was involved in several large debt capital markets deals. For example, the team represented state motorway operator Asfinag on an update to its €12 billion EMTN programme and advised BNP Paribas on the establishment of a €750 million covered bond programme.
In M&A the firm advised DS Smith on the acquisition of Duropack from One Equity Partners for €300 million; acted for OBI when it bought a substantial amount of bauMax’s business in Central Europe; and, represented UniCredit Austria when it bought a 45% share in UniCredit Tiriac Bank from Tiriac Holdings.