Slaughters goes wild out East

Firm grabs US capability in HK with first Asia lateral, but elsewhere it’s steady ahead 

Anyone play legal charades over Christmas? If you did, it’s a fair bet you didn’t portray a risk-taking renegade to illustrate Slaughter
and May.

But new year, new image and all that. Three weeks into 2014 and the firm has announced a double whammy, adding a US capability to its Hong Kong office with its first ever lateral hire in Asia. Blimey.

Morrison & Foerster’s co-head of China capital markets John Moore is to join the firm, making him Slaughters’ first lateral hire in Asia. It has been almost 18 months since Slaughters mooted the idea of adding US law capability in Hong Kong in response to US rivals building up in non-US law.

“The review is triggered by changes in the market,” one source told The Lawyer in 2012. “In the past year a number of US firms have moved on to take on Hong Kong law capabilities. They’re looking at what they should be doing to provide better services to clients in the changed environment.”

The idea raised questions about how a US capability would impact the firm’s carefully managed referral business. There certainly has been no rush by Slaughters to compete with its new rivals, instead it has taken a slow and considered approach.

Sources at the firm are keen to point out that the hire was all about necessity, with Slaughters struggling to stand out in pitches in Hong Kong – particularly for equity capital markets work – without a US capability.

“The market has changed in Hong Kong – many US firms are moving in to acquire a meaningful Hong Kong capacity,” stresses practice partner Paul Olney. “Our preferred model has been to team up with US firms, but that hasn’t been credible [in Hong Kong].” 

Olney is also eager to highlight that the firm has no intention of replicating the model in London – that would be a step too far. 

“This is limited to Hong Kong,” he explains. “It’s part of measured growth.” 

The hire is a sign the firm wants a safe pair of hands as Moore has been doing business with Slaughters for more than a decade.

So far, so Slaughters.