CLYDE & Co is beefing up its Asian presence in the run-up to the 1997 Hong Kong hand-over by sending key commercial litigation partners out to the region.
Martin Heath, who returns for his second stint in the Far East, starts in the 18-lawyer Hong Kong office next month. He will be joined by aviation specialist Colin Franke, who replaces Mike Rotherick. Both Heath and Franke have already left the London practice.
Heath, described by Tony Rooth - his successor as London practice partner - as "an old Hong Kong hand", becomes one of the most senior members of the Hong Kong team.
It is expected Heath will assume the role of lead partner next year when current partner in charge Alec Emmerson returns to the UK.
"Martin Heath has extensive experience in the Far East, particularly in Japan where we have strong client links with various shipping and insurance companies," said Rooth.
"Alec Emmerson will remain as the lead partner in Hong Kong for the time being, but he's probably coming back next year. Martin Heath will then be the most senior partner out there in terms of service and experience."
Rooth said the firm viewed Hong Kong as a "thriving economic and commercial centre" and the pending transfer of power to Chinese rule posed no threat to the office.
"At the moment we see no reason to change our view," he said. "If anything we would probably look at staffing our Hong Kong operation to a greater extent in view of the work that is coming in."
Hong Kong-based partner David Bartlett said the firm had seen workloads in the region increase "phenomenally" in the past two to three years and, although most of the airport construction and infrastructure work had been completed, prospects remained excellent.
"There will be some people who will be moving out of Hong Kong left, right and centre," he said. "The rest of us will be staying here and maybe we'll be picking up the work they left behind."