Will Linklaters be the first magic circle firm to strike a China deal?

It’s widely known in China that some big international names are seeking a local ally or potential merger partner. Linklaters is understood to be among them. The magic circle firm is understood to have held preliminary talks with a few elite Chinese firms, including the likes of Global Law Office and Commerce & Finance.

Yun
Yun Kriegler

Linklaters has been in mainland China since 1998. Almost 16 years later, it maintains a small and focused offering in China with 11 partners across Beijing and Shanghai.

The firm has downsized significantly in the region since 2008/09. That year Linklaters lost two Asia managing partners within 12 months after Zili Shao quit to become chairman and CEO of JPMorgan’s China business. His predecessor, Giles White, left in February 2009 to join infrastructure conglomerate Jardine Matheson as general counsel.

Global litigation head Marc Harvey, who incidentally went up against Shao for the top job in 2009, is now steering the ship in Asia. It could be that he brings about a fundamental strategy shift.

For international firms the Chinese market comes with its own set of challenges. With a variety of firm models and divergent remuneration and partnership structures, Chinese mergers appear to some too tricky a deal to knit together.

It is little wonder Linklaters is taking its time over this one.

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