K&L Gates’ Singapore launch will not prevent layoffs

K&L Gates has come a long way in the international legal market and its global assault is far from over.

The Lawyer can reveal that the acquisitive firm is launching its fifth Asia office today, opening in Singapore after hiring DLA Piper partner Kevin Murphy to spearhead the move.

The launch comes just weeks after K&L Gates hired a two-partner team from Simmons & Simmons to set up shop in Frankfurt (TheLawyer.com, ;15 ­January). The US firm is hell-bent on expanding its sprawling international ­network.

“I ;love ;our ;market ­position,” says firm chairman Pete Kalis. “We’ve been ­consistently adding to the network through ­mergers in Europe, Asia and the US and have been carefully ­diversifying over the years. Any firm trying
to do that now will have ­difficulties.”

On day one Singapore will be staffed by around six K&L Gates lawyers from its London and Asia offices along with Murphy. But there is definitely more to follow. Talks with groups from three more international firms are underway.

The office will be up to 15 lawyers in a matter of weeks if plans go through.

“Corporate ;finance, restructuring and international arbitration will be the primary focus,” says K&L Gates ;Asia ;managing ­partner David Tang. “This office will also be connected to our India practice and the London office. It’s an ­exciting launch for us.”

It is not all office launch parties and smiles, though. While K&L Gates’ revenue was up 27 per cent in 2008 to $959.4m (£664.67m) from $755.2m (£523.2m) in 2007, and average profit per equity partner grew by 6.7 per cent to $853,900 (£591,580), ;the ;firm is still feeling the pinch.

Kalis hosted a video-conference with the firm in mid-February, warning staff that the business was being reviewed and that cuts may well be made in the not too distant future.

“We have to be realistic about our markets,” admits Kalis. “There’s nothing fixed or any set timeframe for this review, but I wanted our firm to know that we’re reviewing our business.”

Even for a healthy firm with no debt, these are sobering times.