German corporate firm SZA Schilling Zutt & Anschütz has hired Clifford Chance's capital markets head for Germany and one of its counsels in Frankfurt as the magic circle firm's restructuring of its operation in the country continues.

Longstanding head of equity and debt capital markets at Clifford Chance, Markus Pfüller, will leave the firm where he has been partner for the last 16 years and join German corporate boutique SZA Schilling Zutt & Anschütz in the same capacity on May 1. Counsel Philipp von Ploetz, who works closely with Pfüller, will also make the switch between the firms.

Pfüller is an equity capital markets specialist who advises on the full range of instruments in the area. His notable clients include Heidelberger Druckmaschinen, which he advised on a convertible bond issue in 2013, and his recent work highlights include acting for underwriters on Probiodrug's IPO last year.

The arrival of Pfüller at SZA will enable the firm to develop its capital markets offering. Corporate advosry work is the firm’s traditional focus, and it excels in it. But, in the last five years or so, it has been developing a broader offering, with more emphasis on transactions, and Pfüller’s hire fits this strategy.

SZA has a long and complicated history. In its original incarnation, it first launched more than 100 years ago. In 2000, it merged with Shearman & Sterling, then, eight years later, 30 partners split away to practice independently under the old brand again. The boutique has deep roots and a large client base in the region where it was established, Mannheim. It expanded into Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt, in 2010, which was a clear indicator of how it was looking to develop, and added an office in Brussels to its network in 2013. Last year, it expanded its restructuring and insolvency team hiring partner Thomas Oberle from well-known administrator firm, Wellensiek. 

Losing the head of a practice is never ideal, but the firm has a healthy number of capital markets partners in Germany – possibly, too many for its workload, hence the restructuring – and, for now at least, it still retains several experienced members of that group who should help negate the loss. US capital markets specialist, George Hackett, and head of the firm’s debt capital markets practice, Sebastian Maerker, are two of the remaining prominent names.

This being said, there are other recent developments for the magic circle firm’s German capital markets practice that, though easily forgotten in the midst of all the recent reports of partners leaving, are worth noting. Firstly, last July, derivatives specialist and finance partner Peter Scherer moved to domestic boutique GSK. Secondly, Kirti Vasu, one of the firm’s top securitisation and structured finance specialists relocated to its London branch at the end of last year.

A reliably steady stream of partners have been leaving Clifford Chance in Germany – principally from its corporate practice – since the turn of the year after managing partner Peter Dieners, who, at the time, had only recently been elected to the post, began a review of the firm’s German operation in 2014. The fallout of the review, which it is believed was instigated from London, was: the firm would cut the number of its partners in Germany by nine.

Adding Pfüller’s departure to the tally, Clifford Chance has now seen eight partners leave in Germany this year. The first two came in February when global private equity head Oliver Felsenstein and private equity partner Burc Hesse were hired by Latham & Watkins. The following month, corporate lawyers and energy specialists Peter Rosin and Thomas Burmeister both agreed to join White & Case, and the firm’s former German corporate head, Arndt Stengel, switched to Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy. The exit of another corporate partner, Wolfgang Richter, that will officially take effect on May 1, was also confirmed in March. The seventh, most recent, partner to quit the magic circle firm was German trade mark practice head Thorsten Vormann who has joined K&L Gates.

If the reported number of partners Clifford Chance is looking to cut is accurate, this period of upheaval should be near its end, although one more resignation can be expected.