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The Chinese authorities in Beijing have handed out the first set of second-office licences granted to foreign law firms
Five licences were issued to Hong Kong firms in March, but firms from outside of greater China have had to wait. It is thought that this was a political move on the part of the People's Republic of China (PRC) government to favour publicly Hong Kong firms. Linklaters, which up until now has used the associated Beijing office of Dutch alliance member De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, has just been given its own licence to operate. Linklaters partner Celia Lam will move from Hong Kong in July to head up the firm's new practice in the Chinese capital. It is still unclear what the Linklaters-De Brauw relationship will be on office-sharing now that the firms have decided against a merger. Allen & Overy (A&O) and Clifford Chance have been awarded licences that give official sanction to the de facto second offices they have been operating for some time. A&O has been using the Beijing office of the now defunct Belgian firm Loeff Claeys Verbeke, whose partners it took on two years ago, while Clifford Chance has been using a Pünder office. The second licence will allow both firms to rebrand and use their own names across the PRC. Norton Rose has been granted its first licence for the PRC. It is understood that the Beijing office is already beginning to attract work. Licences have also gone to a number of US firms, including Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, which has been running two offices since the merger. Firms that have applied for Shanghai licences, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith, are still waiting for the authorities to issue them.