Gowling WLG decides to leave Russia as invasion of Ukraine continues

First Canadian firm to open an office in Moscow says it's 'shocked and deeply concerned' over crisis

Gowling WLG decides to leave Russia as invasion of Ukraine continues
International law firms are leaving Russia as invasion of Ukraine continues

The first Canadian law firm to open an office in Moscow, Gowling WLG, has decided to shut its Russian operations.

It is just the latest international law firm to clarify what it is doing in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are shocked and deeply concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” the firm posted on its LinkedIn site. “Gowling WLG stands united with the Ukrainian people.”

The firm, which on its website says it has 29 lawyers working in Russia, says its departure “will be orderly” as it transitions its business out of the country.

“This decision is grounded in our values and our deep sense of what is right,” the message says, adding that it will “no longer accept new instructions from Russian clients, sanctioned or not, and we will end relationships with Russian clients in a manner that complies with our professional obligations.”

As well, the firm says it is working closely with its charitable partners - including the Red Cross and the UN Refugee Agency – “to help deliver humanitarian aid to those who need it most in Ukraine and the surrounding region.”

One Canadian lawyer commenting on the law firm’s LinkedIn post wrote: “This is massive news given that Gowlings was the first Canadian law firm to open an office is Moscow.”

The Moscow office of Gowling WLG mainly revolves around intellectual property law, with lawyers with expertise in patent and trademark law, as well as counterfeiting. The firm’s website states: “For three decades, Gowling WLG has been a recognized leader in the protection of intellectual property rights in Russia and the CIS region.”

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, about 20 international law firms were operating in Russia before the country invaded Ukraine in February. Some have already decided to shut down operations, others are still looking at next steps.

Norton Rose Fulbright, with a strong presence in Canada, said earlier this week it is closing its Moscow office, and looking at is relationships with clients connected to the Russian government

Anglo-U.S. firm Eversheds Sutherland, with more than 3,000 lawyers, said Wednesday it is closing its offices in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and won’t represent the Russian government, Russian state-controlled entities, or oligarchs.

In a statement, Eversheds said the firm had decided that it will “no longer have a presence in Russia,” going further than its statement last week that it would refuse work from Russian entities.

it will now move in an “orderly transition” away from ties to Russia, though it will comply with “professional obligations” to Russian clients.

The law firm said it has not been acting for the Russian government, or any Russian state-controlled entities or oligarchs. Instead, most of its work has been “centered on advising multinational clients on their affairs relating to or in Russia.” 

Other firms that have said they are closing offices include Latham & Watkins, Squire Patton Boggs, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Squire Patton Boggs said in a statement “It is no longer tenable for us to continue our operations in Russia and we have therefore decided to wind down our Moscow office,” while Latham & Watkins’s chair and managing partner Rich Trobman said in a statement that the firm will immediately begin an orderly transition to wind down its operations in Moscow.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is also now pulling out of the country, after earlier saying it would immediately take steps to terminate its litigation mandate with Russian bank VTB.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton is cutting ties with the Russian government and at least temporarily shuttering its Moscow office. The Wall Street firm said in a statement that it has been exiting its engagements with Russian governmental and state-owned entities. It will also continue to comply with U.S., E.U. and U.K. sanctions law in all its current and future representations, the firm said.

London-founded Linklaters, which opened in Russia in 1992, said it was closing its Moscow office, where its website said it had more than 70 attorneys. The firm said it will decline to represent any entities under the influence or control of President Vladimir Putin's regime.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reprehensible, and it is right that we stand together in condemning it,” the firm said in a statement. It added it will do all it can to help transfer Russia staff to new roles.

With files from Bloomberg

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