DLA Piper cuts China capital markets team in Asia-Pac review

DLA Piper has laid off six capital markets fee-earners in Hong Kong as the firm continues to adjust its Asia Pacific businesses to new market conditions in the region.

The Lawyer first reported on the firm’s intention to cut jobs across Asia Pacific in December 2012 (12 December 2012). It is understood that the six fee-earners, who were all from the China equity capital markets team, were let go at the end of last year. Sources close to the firm said that a small number of supporting roles were also cut in the firm’s Asia offices.

The firm did not run a formal redundancy programme in Hong Kong as there are no specific consultation or notification requirements in respect of redundancy in Hong Kong. According to a source close to the firm, DLA Piper has looked at a number of ways to cut its overheads in the region, including asking employees to take a cut in salary and changing employment contracts. The firm declined to comment on this.

It is understood that staff of long service are offered some protection under Hong Kong laws, but those who are not protected were given the statutory minimum from DLA Piper as a redundancy package. In Hong Kong, the statutory minimum is two-thirds of the last full month’s wages, or HK$15,000 (£1,300), whichever is less, for every year of employment.

Lawyers familiar with the Hong Kong market pointed out that international firms generally keep staff lay-offs confidential, with ‘encouraged to leave’ the most common measure to reduce teams.

DLA Piper declined to comment on specific details, but a spokesperson said: “DLA Piper continually assesses its size and structure against the backdrop of prevailing market conditions to ensure we’re meeting our clients’ needs as efficiently as possible.”

Responding to tougher market conditions, particularly in capital markets areas, many other firms have also scaled back their teams in Hong Kong. In September 2012, Herbert Smith Freehills reportedly let go at least three corporate associates and seconded Hong Kong lawyers to clients, other practice areas and offices to cope with the market slowdown (28 September 2012).

O’Melveny & Myers, Paul Hastings and Shearman & Sterling are some of the other firms that let go a small number of China corporate and capital markets associates in 2012. None have had an official redundancy programme and the adjustments were understood to be on a small scale. All three firms declinded to comment, but Paul Hastings and O’Melveny & Myers said that they did not make any formal redudancies in Asia.

“Across the board corporate and especially capital markets work is very slow, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see any big firms slowing things down on that side,” said an international recruiter in the region. “However, firms are still hiring for arbitration, litigation and finance lawyers.”

In Australia, a number of partners and lawyers have also recently left DLA Piper. Most recently, Melbourne-based property funds partners John Hutchinson and Tony Macafee joined Hall & Wilcox, Melbourne-based commercial litigator Michele Kramer joined Piper Alderma, Perth-based employment partner Simon Billing joined Corrs Chambers Westgarth, and Sydney IP partner Shannon Platt joined Sparke Helmore. Last month, the firm announced that its UK head Andrew Darwin is transferring to Australia to become the firm’s country managing partner (17 January 2013).

Meanwhile, DLA Piper has elected Singapore litigation head John Goulios as local managing partner, taking over from Matthew Glynn who will remain a partner in Singapore.

Qualified in Australia, Goulios has 20 years of experience in insurance and dispute resolution. He was formerly head of litigation and regulatory in Melbourne and relocated to Singapore last July to take the role as head of litigation in Singapore.

The management handover comes following the firm’s unsuccessful application for a QFLP license (19 Feburary 2013). The firm also applied for and missed out on the licence in the first round in 2008 (5 December 2012).

In his new management role, Goulios will focus on growing the local team. Recently the firm hired international arbitration lawyer Yu Jin Tay from Shearman & Sterling (10 January 2013) as co-head of global international arbitration. He will assist Asia Pacific managing partner Bob Charlton in steering the firm’s growth strategy for South East Asia.

A spokesperson of the firm said: “DLA Piper is committed to expanding its talented regionally focused team in Singapore and will actively prepare for the next opportunity to apply for a QFLP licence.”

Glynn, who has been Singapore managing partner since 2010 after his relocation from the firm’s Dubai office, will continue to serve as Asia head of intellectual property and technology.