Clifford Chance has been in Asia since 1980, when the firm opened an office in Hong Kong. It took the magic circle outfit three decades to grow the Asia Pacific practice to today’s size – 79 partners and 289 associates across nine offices, with a total annual turnover of £185m.
The firm’s growth in the past five years is particularly interesting. Its turnover in the region has more than doubled since 2006/07. In 2006/07 Asia Pacific revenue was £86.1m. This rose by 115 per cent to £185.1m in 2011/12.
At the beginning of 2011, on the back of its launch in Sydney and Perth via a double merger, the firm announced that it planned to double revenue in the region to £250m by 2014 – around 15 per cent of firmwide turnover. Based on its 2011/12 results it needs to maintain a 15 per cent annual turnover growth rate for the next two financial years to reach that £250m target.
It is an ambitious plan, given the impact of the global economic slowdown on the Asia Pacific region, but it’s a realistic goal as Clifford Chance seen an above- 15 per cent year-on-year growth rate for the past three years.
In addition to a new revenue stream in Australia the firm is expanding its existing footprint and practices in Asia. In July 2012 it became the first UK firm to open an office in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. In Singapore it has recently extended its litigation offerings by establishing a formal law alliance (FLA) with local boutique Cavenagh Law. Under the FLA the two firms are allowed
to share profits and provide integrated international and Singaporean litigation services to clients.
Finally, the statistics show Clifford Chance has managed to double its revenue without having to double the number of legal staff. The total number of partners in Asia Pacific increased by just two each year between 2008 and 2011. The number was boosted by 14 partners following the double merger in Australia. Although partnership growth in Asia is slow, it is nevertheless in contrast to the firm’s shrinking partner numbers in the Americas and Europe.
So the financials for the past five years clearly suggest that Asia Pacific remains a growth area for Clifford Chance and that its strategy of diversifying investment in Asia and moving up the value chain has delivered.
X factor: the search for legal stars in the region
Clifford Chance, in common with its magic circle peers, has faced strong competition for talent in the area from rival US firms and the local Asian firms that have recently embarked on programmes of regional expansion.
For example, back in 2010 the firm’s Beijing chief representative Rupert Li jumped ship to Chinese firm King & Wood (now King & Wood Mallesons) while in 2011
a team of 10 Clifford Chance lawyers including three partners left its Tokyo office to join K&L Gates.
Most recently, Davis Polk & Wardwell hired two senior litigation partners from Clifford Chance’s Hong Kong office to launch an Asia litigation practice.
Top Asia-related deals in 2012
1 Hong Kong partners Amy Lo and Simon Cooke advised Temasek on its £1.5bn acquisition of a stake in Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
2 Hong Kong partner Emma Davies advised Carrefour on £668m divestments in Malaysia and Indonesia
3 Beijing partner Terence Foo advised Singapore Investment Corporation on its £446m stake in China Pacific Insurance
4 London partner Brendan Moylan advised China Investment Corporation on the acquisition of a 10 per cent stake in Heathrow Airport for £450m
5Shanghai partner Glen Ma advised China’s Jinsheng on its £436m acquisition of business units from Swizerland-based Oerlikon