International eye: Asia

Donna Sawyer on the month in Asia:
Global players follow US firms as push into China gathers pace
Freshfields win seals its status as top foreign firm in China
Cleary scoops £1.7bn advisory role on South Korean IPO
Foreign firms in Japan gear up for work as new cartel laws are unveiled

Foreign law firms move in on China’s mainland

Another year brings another raft of US law firms to China’s mainland.

According to the latest Chinese Ministry of Justice list obtained by The Lawyer, nine US firms have launched offices in Beijing during the past 12 months, with many more applying for licences.

As first reported by The Lawyer (7 March 2005), Dewey Ballantine, Hunton & Williams and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr have been leading the charge, all registering their offices in Beijing last year.

Andrews Kurth, Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Garvey Schubert & Barer, Holland & Knight, Preston Gates & Ellis and White & Case also opened offices in Beijing.

But it is not just US firms moving into China. Pinsent Masons has followed suit, announcing plans to launch in Beijing as part of a renewed push into China (The Lawyer, 16 January).

Pinsents’ new office is set to be staffed by one partner and three associates, who will specialise in construction and engineering, projects and foreign direct investment.

International operations manager Tony Bunch says: “Beijing is still the centre of political and commercial power and we felt that to be a major player on the mainland we needed to be in Beijing as well as Shanghai. The significant growth in our Far East business, as well as work we’re undertaking for Chinese companies internationally, means we’re spending more time working in Beijing.”

The move comes a month after Pinsents expanded its Asian operations, poaching two corporate heavyweights and a senior China-qualified lawyer for its Hong Kong and Shanghai practices.

Pinsents hired Clyde & Co partner Dale Fischer, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary partner Andrew Lui and Boss & Young consultant Amanda Yao in December.

Asian law firms have also been realising the benefits of having a presence on China’s mainland. Firms moving into Beijing during the past year have included Japanese firm Kanno Shoichi, Singapore’s Stamford Law and Korean rivals Lee & Ko and Bae Kim & Lee.

Shanghai is also proving to be a hotspot, with internationalist firms Clydes and Norton Rose announcing plans to move there later this year (The Lawyer, 16 January).

Shanghai will be Clydes’ first office in mainland China, while Norton Rose is adding to its four-year-old Beijing operation.

Clydes Hong Kong partner Ik Wei Chong is moving to Shanghai to launch the new office, while Norton Rose partner Jim James will lead the firm’s new venture.

Norton Rose Asia managing partner David Stannard says that, even though the new office would be staffed by two partners, the firm is recruiting aggressively for more solicitors to expand the office.

“My view is that China is a very big and very important place. To do it properly you have to be in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong,” he says.

Herbert Smith is also getting in on the act, announcing plans to extend its Asian dispute resolution practice to mainland China with a team in Shanghai (The Lawyer, 19 December 2005).

The one-man operation will work closely with Chinese firm King & Wood, which will advise on local law, while litigation partner Graeme Johnston will provide general strategic advice and coordination.

Freshfields beats rivals to Bank of China IPO

While numerous foreign law firms have been busying themselves finding their way into China, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer continues to take the lion’s share of the corporate work.

The magic circle firm’s Hong Kong office has trampled its competition to win the top advisory role on the Bank of China’s $8bn (£4.5bn) IPO.

The deal looks set to be China’s second-largest flotation on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, following the $9.2bn (£5.2bn) listing of the China Construction Bank last year.

Freshfields won its first instruction from the bank following a competitive tender process. Hong Kong partner Kay Ian Ng is leading the team.

Sullivan & Cromwell is acting for the Bank of China on US law aspects of the deal, while Shearman & Sterling has secured an advisory role for underwriters Goldman Sachs and UBS, with capital markets partner Leiming Chen taking the lead. Allen & Overy is also representing the underwriters on Hong Kong law.

Jun He Law Offices and King & Wood are understood to be responsible for the local law aspects of the listing.

Cleary bags lead adviser role on Lotte Shopping’s global IPO
Freshfields might have the IPO market covered in Hong Kong and China, but Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton has been leading the charge on a number of global listings to come from South Korea.

The US firm has scooped the lead advisory role on the £1.7bn dual listing of South Korea’s largest department store chain Lotte Shopping.

Lotte will list on the London and Seoul Stock Exchanges as part of the transaction.

Cleary is understood to have secured the work on its reputation, having acted for the issuers in several Korean IPOs. The US firm was invited to pitch for the role against a number of firms, including Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which won an instruction from the underwriters, Goldman Sachs and Nomura Holdings.

Hong Kong-based corporate partner Yong Lee is leading the Cleary team on the listing, while Jin-Hyuk Park is heading the Simpson Thacher delegation.

Lotte’s application to list in South Korea is expected to be given the all-clear, paving the way for a flotation by mid-February.

Japan ushers in the year of the whistleblower

foreign law firms in Japan are gearing up for a wave of new competition work following the introduction of new anti-monopoly laws (The Lawyer, 23 January).

The revised laws, similar to those in the US, have been brought in to expose cartels and include an offer of immunity to the first company in a cartel to own up.

It is the first time in 28 years that anti-monopoly laws have been changed in Japan, with some senior corporate lawyers branding 2006 ‘the year of the whistleblower’.

Freshfields partner Kazuki Okada told The Lawyer that the firm was about to boost its corporate team in preparation for the work likely to arise from the revised laws.

He said the new laws would most likely lead to a significant rise in the number of cartel cases being referred to the Fair Trade Commission.

“We think it will lead to more competition work,” he said. “But this will most likely be done by corporate lawyers. We also expect an increase in the volume of shareholder litigation.”

A number of sources said the construction industry would feel the biggest impact from the revised laws.

International roundup
Coming up:

Europe: 6 Feb
US: 13 Feb
Europe: 20
Feb asia: 27 Feb