Clifford Chance’s Asian managing partner Jim Baird has vowed to team up with a Chinese law firm as soon as the Chinese government allows it.
Although the government has not yet bowed to international pressure to deregulate, Baird is prepared to begin discussions with local firms as soon as the market is opened up.
“Really it’s a question of who’s the suitor and who’s the bride,” Baird said. “We don’t have a bride in mind at the moment. We’d be looking to partner with a firm that actually enhances what we already have in terms of our strengths.”
The magic circle firm has ambitious plans to double in size in mainland China within the next five years to over 100 lawyers. The firm is particularly targeting the so-called “sea turtles”, or “hai gui” – native Chinese who have gone abroad to study and work before returning home.
Baird said clients were increasingly seeking international expertise in China on top of local knowledge.
“Whilst clients recognise the strengths of the domestic law firms, they’ve expressed a view to us that what they really look for would be to have an international law firm that knows them far better globally than a Chinese law firm would know them,” he added.