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France has always been a major player in the Far East, with former colonies in South East Asia and considerable economic activity in the region. However, law firms have been, for the most part, slow to cash in.
Until recently, that is.
June saw two firms make a push into Asia. First, Gide Loyrette Nouel launched an office in Hong Kong, adding to its existing presence in Beijing, Shanghai and Hanoi. Then independent firm Bignon Lebray made its move, hiring Chinese law specialist Bruno Lefébure from Haarmann Hemmelrath's Shanghai office and launching an association with Chinese firm Beacon. Lefébure will be based in Paris, but Bignon is relocating Aix-based François Perruchot Triboulet to Shanghai.
With only a handful of French firms in the region, Gide and Bignon can expect to make swift ground in their new offices. Gide in particular is finding Asia one of its most useful jurisdictions, with turnover rising by 42 per cent between 2004 and 2005.
But the Franco-Asian legal market looks likely to remain small, thanks to the reluctance of most French firms to pursue an international strategy.