DLA Piper has swooped for the majority of the lawyers in Coudert's Beijing office, despite the fact that Orrick had paid Coudert's New York management almost $1m (£540,000) for the fixtures and fittings and the lease in Beijing.
Orrick had been the first to strike, taking Coudert's Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai offices, as first revealed by www.thelawyer. com (25 August). It took nine of Coudert's 11 equity partners in China, including two of the four equity partners in Beijing, but crucially it did not bag influential Beijing managing partner Tao Jingzhou.
Now a fight has broken out over the licence to practise in Beijing as well as the rest of the fee-earning staff. DLA Piper sources claim to have secured the majority of Beijing's 36 associates and paralegals, while Orrick sources expect at least half of those to come to them.
This has caused huge arguments between the management teams at DLA Piper and Orrick. Because Orrick has taken control of the Beijing office, the new DLA Piper team has been threatened with expulsion.
While admitting to being homeless, a DLA Piper source argued: "The licence is held by Coudert and is not transferable [to Orrick]. [Orrick chairman] Ralph Baxter has got to be mightily embarrassed."
An Orrick source countered: "Coudert will be operating in Beijing and Shanghai until the Chinese Ministry of Justice makes some sort of decision about Orrick. We've applied for a licence, but that's totally at the discretion and authority of the Ministry of Justice."
It is understood that DLA Piper has made firm offers to equity partners Jingzhou and Laetitia Tjao. In addition, DLA Piper is laying claim to two non-equity partners and the 36 associates and paralegals in Beijing.
Orrick has signed up the entire Shanghai and Hong Kong offices and the other two Beijing equity partners. As part of its deal with Coudert, it has made offers to all of the China-based lawyers except Jingzhou and Tjao.