Johnson stokes & Master

Hong Kong-based firm Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM) has announced its intention to open a third office on China’s mainland this year.

The new office in Guangzhou marks the firm’s commitment to remaining an independent Asian commercial law firm, with offices in Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong and Shanghai. JSM also recently opened an office in Phuket to expand its property, hotels and leisure practices.

Managing partner David Ellis said the firm only had eyes for Asia. “We have no plans to conquer the world or add bulk for the sake of it,” he said. “We want to pursue a strategy of being an independent, Asian-based law firm of the highest international quality.”

It is true that JSM no longer takes the lion’s share of work from traditional clients such as HSBC or Swire, but it is still a heavyweight in the region. Its bread and butter is mid-range work in real estate, asset finance, insolvency, commercial litigation and employment. But rivals do not underestimate the firm’s capacity to undertake major deals.

Last year, JSM acted for Cathay Pacific on its $2.6bn (£1.5bn) acquisition of 12 aircraft from Boeing. It also represented Sun Hung Kai Properties on a HK$12.6bn (£933m) working capital facility. In addition, the firm has worked on a number of IPOs, including China State Construction’s $100m (£57.5m) listing and the Distribution Services Group HK$480m (£35.6m) listing.

Ellis insists that the sky is the limit for JSM as China continues to boom. “We want to act for leading Asian-based corporates and also multinationals operating in the region,” he said. “We have a sophisticated client relationship management programme for following closely what our leading clients are up to and making sure we’re well positioned to serve their needs.”

JSM also has a strong dispute resolution and private client team, as proven by its success in defending Hong Kong’s richest woman in the most famous Hong Kong case of the decade. The firm successfully defended Nina Kung, who was recently cleared of forging her late husband’s will to inherit his fortune, following an epic eight-year legal battle.

Prosecutors dropped charges that Kung had falsified the will and attempted to pervert the course of justice after the Court of Final Appeal exonerated her last September. It was the longest-running criminal and civil proceedings ever in Hong Kong.

JSM partner Brian Gilchrist led the team in the civil and criminal proceedings throughout the eight-year period.

“It was just good that the Court of Final Appeal really looked at the evidence in making its decision,” Gilchrist told The Lawyer.

JSM was formed in 1863 and has been a landmark in the Hong Kong scene ever since. The firm has 71 partners and 45 equity partners.

Firm name: Johnson Stokes & Master
Managing partner: David Ellis
Turnover: £74m (estimated)
Total number of lawyers: 230
Total number of partners: 71 (45 equity, 26 non-equity)
Main practice areas: Commercial litigation, corporate, banking and finance, private equity, property
Key clients: Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong and China Gas Corporation, HSBC, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Swire Group
Number of offices: Seven
Locations: Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Phuket, Shanghai