Denton Wilde Sapte has lost all of its Beijing lawyers, including partner and recently promoted head of the China group Tang Zhengyu, to Sidley Austin Brown & Wood
Dentons has pumped significant resources into Asia over the last year, but the departures leave the firm with no lawyers in the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC). Zhengyu and three associates will move to the Shanghai office of Sidley, but the details have yet to be finalised. Zhengyu is a highly-rated mainland Chinese lawyer and it is understood that he has been approached by a magic circle firm in the past. A year ago Dentons head of corporate Steven Goodman was installed as head of the Asia practice and has since successfully built its profile in the region. The firm strengthened its Toyko office with a joint venture in February and also took on former Dow Chemicals general counsel Ed Neuneubel for the Hong Kong office. Chief Executive Virginia Glastonbury said: "It's not that we had all our eggs in one basket and that basket has gone." She also said that the split was amicable. According to Glastonbury, there are no immediate plans to replace Zhengyu, although Neuneubel and partner Raymond Kwok will commute to the PRC. Glastonbury claimed that the firm was "still committed to Beijing" and confirmed that the firm has applied for a licence to open a Shanghai office. However, an absence of lawyers on the ground in the PRC could cause problems for the credibility of the China practice. A former head of Asia at another UK firm told The Lawyer: "These days clients expect to pick up the phone and talk to someone in the PRC. We believe if it's worth investing anywhere, it's in greater China." The departures could cause Dentons further problems because sources inside Sidley say that the US firm expects Zhengyu's clients to follow him to his new firm. Dentons' greater China offices have a top-notch client list that includes Avon and Microsoft. As the sole Dentons partner in Beijing, Zhengyu's client contact puts him in a good position to attract former clients to Sidley.