Cleary hires Cravath heavyweight for Beijing launch

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has poached Cravath Swaine & Moore senior securities and capital markets partner Clayton Johnson, for its new Beijing office.

Johnson will join the firm on November 12, dividing his time between Beijing and Hong Kong.

The new Beijing office is expected to open early next year.

Cleary’s move is highly unusual since it rarely makes lateral hires, but it underlines US firms’ aggressive targeting of the Chinese market.

Johnson will focus on developing the firm’s China practice as well as working on transactions for clients of the firm throughout Asia.

He was instrumental in establishing Cravath’s office in Hong Kong between 1994 to 2003 and also developed a leading capital markets practice in Asia, primarily representing major investment.

Cravath closed its Hong Kong office in 2003, leaving offices only in New York and London.

Cleary Gottlieb managing partner Mark Walker said it was anticipated that Johnson would ultimately be based in Beijing full-time.

“Cleary Gottlieb made an early commitment to the Asia Pacific region 25 years ago when we established an office in Hong Kong,” he said. “Our Hong Kong and Beijing offices will work closely together to meet the needs of our clients in capital markets, private equity M&A and other transactions taking place in China.”

Cleary Gottlieb announced plans to open its first office on China’s mainland last month.