Kirkland & Ellis is hoping to launch an office in Hong Kong within a year, although the ambitious plans are still subject to regulatory approval.
London-based private equity partner David Eich is expected to relocate to Hong Kong to head up the new office. He told The Lawyer that the Chicago-based firm had not yet lodged its application for a local operating licence, but was hopeful the office would be operational by Q4 2006 or Q1 2007.
He said the firm was confident of receiving approval and expected to file its licence application in the summer. This is despite the notoriously difficult licence application process in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Should the office opening be granted approval, Eich will be supported by two US-qualified associates.
Four-year PQE associate Tai Hsia, who has close relationships with CVC Capital Partners and Bain Capital, is due to relocate from London, while five-year PQE Chuan Li will move across from the firm's Chicago headquarters.
Eich said the office would focus on private equity, in response to demand from the firm's existing Hong Kong-based clients within the LBO market.
He continued that the firm had been “incubating” its Asian practice out of the firm's existing US and UK offices for two-and-a-half years, and the Hong Kong office would draw on this expertise.
The firm is also understood to have been in discussions with several lateral partner and associate hires for the last six months. However, initially Eich, Hsia and Li would be supported by some 10 support staff, including an office manager.
The announcement follows a string of notable lateral hires in London, including Linklaters rated private equity partners Graham White and Raymond McKeeve and Allen & Overy leveraged finance star Stephen Gillespie.
However, as exclusively revealed in The Lawyer (8 May), the office has also recently been rocked by the resignations of London partners Stuart Mills and Nigel Dunmore.
Mills, who was one of the two founding partners of Kirkland's London office in 1994, confirmed to The Lawyer that he would retire from the Chicago-based firm and returning to the US in order to "pursue other interests" in September.
Dunmore, a corporate partner who previously headed up Kirkland's UK law group, also left the firm in late April ago in mysterious circumstances.
Mills is widely recognised as the managing partner of Kirkland's London office, although his official title is chairman of the London management committee.
His replacement in that role has not yet been decided, although partner Jim Learner is understood to be the most likely candidate.