At the same time, A&O is undertaking a wholesale strategic review of its underperforming Tokyo office, with closure or downsizing options on the table for consideration. The alternative is to ramp up and look into recruiting bengoshi.
Thomas Jones, a US and Hong Kong-qualified corporate M&A lawyer and fluent Mandarin speaker, was head of Freshfields China's antitrust, trade and competition practice in Beijing before joining A&O and had held the position of head of the China office prior to that.
For Freshfields, Jones is the second head of its China operation who has left the firm in recent times. Michael Moser quit in March for O'Melveny & Myers, telling The Lawyer at the time (27 March) that he was "frustrated" with A&O's lack of a viable US operation. Like Moser, Jones is a US lawyer.
The hire gives A&O 15 partners in its China group, based in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York.
A&O's six-partner Tokyo office was launched in 1988 and is understood to make a substantial operating profit, but is in the red after partner drawings are taken. The firm's management is meeting to discuss the future of the operation in the coming weeks.
A&O's review of Tokyo comes just a few months after US firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton announced that it was closing down its Japanese office, shutting the doors in late April to focus its attention on mainland China.
Lovells' Japan office was saved from the axe despite a year-long review of its operations after picking up some high-profile instructions.
In contrast, Linklaters has invested heavily in the region and launched the country's first fully integrated law firm in April last year.