Oliver Felsenstein, LL.M. '91: International Business Lawyer Serves Private Equity Clients from Germany

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Oliver Felsenstein

Oliver Felsenstein, LL.M. '91

Oliver Felsenstein, LL.M. '91, vividly remembers his first Miami Hurricanes football game. He had just arrived from Germany to study comparative law when his friends whisked him to the Orange Bowl for a big game with Florida State University. "I had no idea what American football was like," said Felsenstein, who grew up with soccer. "I thought there might be a few hundred people at the game, but the stands were filled with what seemed like 100,000 fans. I was screaming so much that I couldn't say a word during my first week at Miami Law."

Along with a love of college football, Felsenstein took a deeper understanding of U.S. law back to Germany, where he is now applying his business law acumen to advising private equity clients as a partner in the Frankfurt office of Latham & Watkins LLP. He also serves on the firm's Global Executive Committee. With 29 offices and more than 3,000 lawyers, Latham is the second largest firm globally by revenue. "COVID-19 was quite a challenge last year, but we ended up with the best year in history, despite all our attorneys working from home," he said.

Launching an International Career

A native of Germany, Felsenstein knew he wanted a career in law at an early age. "I remember watching the movie, 'The Godfather,' and liking the character of the consigliere Tom Hagen, played by Robert Duvall – the adviser to the Corleone family," he said. "Since I have no talent for trades, it felt like the law was a good choice for me."

Felsenstein earned his law degree at the University of Freiburg and was considering starting his practice. Then a friend suggested going to the University of Miami for graduate studies. "I had been to Miami and few times and loved the city," he said. "So, I got in touch with Miami Law, received a scholarship, and started the LL.M. program in 1990."

At the time, there were few LL.M. graduates in Germany and virtually none from Miami Law. "The globalization of the business world had just started, and attorneys were not as familiar with other countries as they are now," Felsenstein said.

"For me, Miami Law was the perfect place. I could pick my courses, talk with other international students, and take a deep dive into the U.M. experience. It was a key factor in building my law career, making it easier for me to help U.S. clients with interests in Germany and vice versa."

When Felsenstein returned to Germany, most of the business law firms handled domestic matters. He was able to join a prestigious corporate firm that later merged with Lovell White Durrant, a multinational firm based in the U.K., which later became Hogan Lovells. "I interviewed with the late Richard Sterzinger, LL.M. '77," he said. "He was very proud to be a Hurricane and had flags in his office of all the countries where the LL.M. graduates worked. We spent an hour talking about our classes at U.M., and he offered me the job without asking about my credentials."

Felsenstein spent 15 years with the firm and then joined UK-based Clifford Chance LLP as global head of private equity. In 2015, he moved to Latham, where he regularly leads large, international teams for clients in the U.S., European Union, United Kingdom, and Asia.

Along with the law, family is a top priority for Felsenstein and his wife Oxana Balayan, who have four sons and a daughter. She is also a lawyer and recently established her own firm, Balayan Group, based in Moscow. "We operate from several locations, with Munich as our home," he said. "We enjoy sports, hiking and the opera. Last year, we climbed the Mont Blanc in France." Felsenstein is also a member of the curatorship of the Foundation Deutsche Sporthilfe, an organization supporting the German Olympic team.

A Leading Private Equity Lawyer

Early in his career, Felsenstein began focusing on the private equity sector, helping firms and funds navigate every stage of the investment life cycle, from acquisition through exit. His decades of experience include more than 100 completed transactions exceeding 100 billion euros in value across diverse industries, including technology, industrials, and health care.

"I've done this my entire career, learning on the job," Felsenstein said. "After the financial crisis of 2008, there was talk that private equity would no longer exist, and my partners encouraged me to find a new job. But I hung in there, and my clients really appreciated me staying with them through the downturn."

Known as a strong relationship builder and keen strategist, Felsenstein is ranked in "Band 1 for Private Equity" by Chambers Europe 2018-2021 and named "Lawyer of the Year – Private Equity in Germany," by Handelsblatt Best Lawyers 2020, and one of "30 Most Influential Lawyers – Private Equity Industry Worldwide” by Private Equity International."

Today, Felsenstein's clients are mainly large-cap and mid-cap funds from the U.S. and Europe. While the same types of private equity transactions occur in all markets, the strategies and techniques differ from region to region, he said. "If you do a deal in the U.S., you need to take a different approach than in Europe. Our team's experience and coverage let us bring things together seamlessly for our clients."

In his practice, Felsenstein brings a commercial perspective to clients' business challenges.

"Private equity funds are looking for results in the most efficient way," he said. "They trust you not to waste your time. It's a different mindset from corporate lawyers who may argue about the legal tactics necessary to achieve a goal – a private equity executive just wants to get the deal done."

One of Felsenstein's longtime clients is Hg, initially a small British private equity fund. "I helped them open their German office and watched them expand to the U.S. as well," he said. Based in London, Munich, and New York, Hg has become Europe's leading software investor with more than $30 billion in assets under management for some of the world's leading institutional and private investors.

This spring, Felsenstein advised Hg on its investment in AUVESY GmbH, a global leader for data management systems and a provider of version control software for smart production machinery and other industrial devices. In April, he represented funds advised by Bregal Unternehmerkapital to acquire a majority stake in Perfect Drive Sports Group, Europe's leading e-commerce provider of golf apparel and equipment. The B.U. funds invest in mid-sized companies across a wide range of sectors in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.

Considering International Law?

Miami Law students interested in international financial transactions should do their homework and understand the commercial background. Felsenstein advises they "know why a P.E. fund might want to buy company A versus company B. You should also understand the trends and issues in the industry so that you can become a trusted adviser to your clients. You don't make the decisions, but you need to act as a sounding board."

Even the largest private equity funds have limited personnel capability, so the legal team members – even first-year associates – typically have direct contact with the client, Felsenstein said. To be successful, a private equity attorney should enjoy engaging with people and understanding finance and business.

"If you plan to become an international lawyer, don't worry about focusing on U.S. law," Felsenstein said. "When you are working on deals, there are similarities around the world. Having international experience is a great foundation, and you can always work with local lawyers in a particular jurisdiction. And if you work for a global law firm, you become part of a team serving clients in many locations."

Felsenstein has personally supported foreign lawyers coming to Miami Law and expanding their international law lens. Says Dean Janet Stearns, then director of Foreign and International Graduate Programs, "One of the greatest memories of my Miami Law career was traveling to Frankfurt, Germany with Professor Richard Williamson. On that trip, we met Oliver Felsenstein, and he initiated the idea of a scholarship for an international LL.M. student. This type of philanthropy has not historically been as common overseas, but has been foundational to our ability to recruit top LL.M. students to Miami."

As for guidance for today's students, Felsenstein said: "Stay hungry and enjoy the ride. Many students are very focused on one field, but things happen that you can't predict, like the pandemic. When an opportunity comes along, take a chance and try something new."

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