Rainmakers

Law firm Bub Gauweiler has a high-profile past but questionable future

Bundesverfassungsgericht verkündet Urteil zu EZB-Anleihenkäufe
This is Peter Gauweiler. His partner, Mr. Bub, doesn't like cameras. Source: DPA

One of Germany’s most prominent corporate law firms is led by a truly odd couple who have made their differences work together to achieve success. Their biggest coup so far is forcing Deutsche Bank to pay out more than a billion dollars to settle claims it drove the Kirch media empire into bankruptcy.

Peter Gauweiler is one of the country’s most controversial politicians, championing conservative causes from challenging the European Central Bank’s asset-purchase program to questioning whether Bavaria’s famous King Ludwig II really did commit suicide. He is gruff, outspoken, and not afraid to break some china.

His partner, Wolf-Rüdiger Bub, on the other hand, is an opera buff, an aficionado of Expressionist art, and a financial investor who now considers the practice of law a hobby. He is the rainmaker, roping in clients with his charm and keeping them happy with his skills as a mediator.

Together, however, along with longtime associate Franz Enderle, the pair have made Bub Gauweiler a fearsome name in German legal circles. The Kirch-Deutsche Bank case is their best known, but hardly the only one where they have not flinched in advocating for a client, no matter how big the opponent.

Turning clients away

The firm is representing the Prevent auto supply group in its current dispute with Volkswagen, a story that is far from over. It represented its neighbor across Promenadeplatz in Munich, the five-star Hotel Bayerischer Hof, fighting a hotel project of the Schörghuber Group, and took up the cause of former Sal. Oppehheim head Matthias Graf von Krockow against Deutsche Bank and Quelle heiress Madeleine Schickedanz.

The firm has become so famous that it now turns down 9 out of 10 clients seeking to engage it, according to Mr. Bub. In any case, he says, he doesn’t need the work. “This here is my hobby,” he said. “I don’t have to earn any more money.”

The Kirch case alone was said to have brought the firm anywhere between €20 million and €90 million. (“Nonsense,” said Mr. Bub, calling the estimates exaggerated.)

The case went back to a careless remark from Deutsche Bank’s CEO in 2002, Rolf-Ernst Breuer, who said in a television interview that no one in the financial sector was willing to loan money to Leo Kirch, whose media empire was in financial trouble. Mr. Kirch claimed Deutsche made it impossible for him to get credit again, and sought billions in damages, though few gave him any chance of success.

After more than a decade of legal maneuvering by Bub Gauweiler, Deutsche finally threw in the towel and agreed to pay €925 million to the estate of Mr. Kirch, who had died in the interim.

Champion of German euro-skeptics

Mr. Bub has plowed some of his profit from the firm into startups. He cut his teeth with a stake in an incubator and then branched off onto his own, investing directly in the firms. Since then, he says, he hasn’t had a single flop.

Mr. Gauweiler pursued his political career while retaining his ties to the firm. He was a longtime leader in the Bavarian wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party, the Christian Social Union. He filled cabinet posts in the state government and served as deputy leader in the national parliament.

A pronounced euro-skeptic who appears frequently on national television, he has colorfully referred to the euro as “Esperanto money” and tried to block the EU bailouts of Greece in Germany’s constitutional court.

Threatened with extinction

Much of the firm’s success is attributed to Mr. Enderle, who is variously described as a bulldozer, a kamikaze pilot, or a sledgehammer, and who is famous for never, ever giving up. Mr. Enderle is the crowbar to Mr. Gauweiler’s sword and Mr. Bub’s rapier, making the firm a triple threat ready to take on even the most difficult cases.

But not for much longer. The two partners are past retirement age, at 70 for Mr. Bub and 69 for Mr. Gauweiler. Mr. Enderle, for all his qualities, is not seen as a likely successor, nor are any of the 10 other lawyers working for the firm. The two partners have looked at various candidates for partnership over the years, but ended up frightening them off.

The new generation, mused Mr. Bub, may not be up to the total commitment demanded by the firm, looking instead for a better work-life balance. “Fossils like Bub and Gauweiler,” he said, “are threatened with extinction.”

Melanie Bergermann is a writer for Handelsblatt’s sister publication, business weekly Wirtschaftswoche. This article was adapted into English by Darrell Delamaide, an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC.

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