Clifford Chance targets mainland China with alliance talks

UK firm in discussions with Beijing’s Broad & Bright in wake of Mallesons-King & Wood deal

Clifford Chance has held talks with one of China’s fastest-growing firms regarding a strategic alliance that would almost treble the number of ­partners at the UK firm’s disposal in Beijing and Shanghai.

The firm is understood to be discussing a deal with 20-partner Broad & Bright, which acted for Kraft ­alongside the magic circle firm on the competition aspects of the US company’s multibillion-pound acquisition of Cadbury last year.

Clifford Chance Beijing and Shanghai managing partner Stephen Harder and Broad & Bright managing partner Liu Hongchuan are understood to be involved in the dialogue.

The plan comes hot on the heels of the merger between Chinese giant King & Wood and Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques, which is set to go live next year. That deal is expected to change the face of the ­global legal market by producing a major international ­player that did not originate in either the UK or the US.

Broad & Bright has 20 partners and 40 associates and has maintained an ­average revenue growth rate of around 30 per cent a year in the past couple of years.

The firm has strengths in competition and international trade, with founding member Feng Yao, who is Broad & Bright’s highest-profile lawyer, ­leading this practice group out of ­Beijing. She formerly held roles as a lawyer in China’s Ministry of Commerce and at Covington & Burling in Washington DC and has also worked with Clifford Chance on a ­number of antitrust filings in China.

Broad & Bright was established in 2005 by Liu and Feng and two other partners, Yuan Changchuan and Ji Jun, all of whom are US-­qualified.

It is one of a number of Beijing-headquartered firms known for working frequently with international firms on cross-­border deals. A ban on foreign firms practising Chinese law means they are forced to work with local outfits on international deals in the country.

Clifford Chance has a total of 11 partners in Beijing and Shanghai – six in the former and four in the latter, in addition to Harder, who runs both offices.
Clifford Chance senior partner Malcolm Sweeting declined to comment on the talks, as did Broad & Bright.