Clifford Chance's Asian managing partner Jim Baird has vowed to team up with a Chinese law firm as soon as the Chinese government allows it.
Although the government has not yet bowed to international pressure to deregulate, Baird is prepared to begin discussions with local firms as soon as the market is opened up.
"Really it's a question of who's the suitor and who's the bride," said Baird. "We don't have a bride in mind at the moment. We'd be looking to partner with a firm that actually enhances what we already have in terms of our strengths."
The magic circle firm has ambitious plans to double in size in mainland China within the next five years to more than 100 lawyers, as first revealed on www.thelawyer.com (30 September). The firm is particularly targeting the so-called 'sea turtles', or 'hai gui' - native Chinese who have gone abroad to study and work before returning home.
Baird said clients are increasingly seeking international expertise in China on top of local knowledge. He believes that other international firms will continue to move into China over the next few years.
"While clients recognise the strengths of the domestic law firms, they've expressed a view to us that what they really look for is to have an international law firm that knows them far better globally than a Chinese law firm would know them," said Baird.
The firm's Hong Kong office, meanwhile, is likely to remain its current size, with around 125 lawyers. Clifford Chance's Asian offices account for seven per cent of the firm's £1.03bn worldwide turnover.