With the Soviet Union increasingly seeking U.S. joint venture partners, a prominent New York law firm is planning to open an office in Moscow--the first U.S. law firm to take such action--in an effort to assist in business deals.
Coudert Bros. said Wednesday that it has received approval to open the office from the Soviet government.
John Huhs, a New York lawyer who chairs the American Bar Assn.'s International Commercial Transactions Committee, said he did not believe that any other U.S. law firm had ever gotten approval from the Soviet government to open an office in the country.
"It is a very unusual step and a very significant step," he said.
James Sitrick, chairman of Coudert's executive committee, said the purpose of opening the office is to advise American, Western European, Middle Eastern and Asian clients with commercial and business interests.
"Many of our clients, both U.S. and other international companies, have already announced plans for joint ventures, trading and commercial relationships in the U.S.S.R., and others are actively considering business projects there," he said in a statement.
"All have reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of having Western legal counsel available to them in Moscow," he said.
Among Coudert clients that may have an interest in activities in the Soviet Union are Occidental Petroleum, Fiat Sp.A. and Atlantic Richfield Co.
Moscow has actively been seeking Western business associates and last year ran a supplement in the Wall Street Journal lauding its medical and scientific achievements. Recently, investment banker Drexel Burnham Lambert said it held talks with Soviet officials about underwriting possibilities and a possible medical or technological joint venture.
Sitrick said the Moscow office will open next month and will be headed by American lawyer Richard Dean, who has worked most recently in Coudert's Sydney, Australia, office.
Huhs said that while he was unaware of any other law firms seeking approval to open a Russian office, Coudert's move may get other firms "thinking about it."
"It's the same way as it was with China and Tokyo," Huhs said. "It's a very expensive proposition, but when one of your competitors does it . . . if you consider yourself an international firm you have to think about it."
The New York lawyer pointed out, however, that it was not unusual for U.S. lawyers to visit the Soviet Union to help multinational firms with business deals.
Robert Cox, chairman of Chicago-based Baker & McKenzie, which has 1,040 lawyers, said his firm was not currently considering opening a Moscow office. "Sometime down the line it may be possible," he said.
Baker & McKenzie opened an office in Budapest, Hungary, in October, 1987.
Coudert, which has 17 offices in 11 countries, has one of the most extensive international practices in the world. It employs about 300 lawyers.
The firm was the first U.S. law firm to open offices in Europe, Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China and Australia and was among the first in Tokyo.