US firm Dorsey & Whitney is making its first foray into mainland China after winning a licence to practise in Shanghai.
Corporate partner Zhao Alex Zhang will head the office, which is expected to be operational this month. Zhang was instrumental in establishing the firm's Hong Kong operation in 1995.
China is regarded as a potential source of lucrative work due to its expected accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) later this year.
The conditions it must meet to be eligible for WTO membership include making the country more accessible to foreign law firms and companies.
A range of international firms are still waiting to hear if their licence applications have been successful. Some of the bigger firms, such as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters & Alliance, have applied for licences to open a second office in the country. Previously, firms were allowed to practise only in one city.
Walter Mondale, chair of Dorsey's Asian practice group, says the WTO accession and client expectations both played key roles in the decision to tackle the Chinese market.
He adds: "China's expected entry into the WTO will open and liberalise its economy in ways that we expect will provide unprecedented trade and investment opportunities for US companies."
Other US firms already in China include White & Case in Shanghai and Brown & Wood and Coudert Brothers in Beijing.
As well as offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Dorsey's Asian practice includes an operation in Tokyo.