Lovells chooses alliance strategy to crack SE Asia

Lovells is planning a series of strategic alliances in South East Asia, which it believes will open up the local market without the financial risk of opening offices in jurisdictions such as Thailand.

The news follows Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s decision to close its Bangkok office and Denton Wilde Sapte’s announcement that it will pull out of Asia altogether.

Lovells is in advanced talks with one Thai firm about an alliance and has similar plans for Indonesia and Vietnam.

The firm’s management is currently discussing the Thai alliance, although some influential partners are thought to be reluctant to commit in the wake of other firms’ decisions to pull out of the region.

Any expansion in South East Asia would be through Lovells’
Singaporean joint venture Lovells Lee & Lee, under which the firms have some degree of financial integration.

The plan is for both Lovells and Lee & Lee to conclude associated office agreements with local firms. Although Lovells would provide know-how and probably have at least one of its partners on the ground, there would be no financial integration.

Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Linklaters piled into Thailand in the 1990s, but the country has failed to fulfil its economic promise.

Vietnam and Indonesia are still virgin territory, aside from a tiny Freshfields outpost in Vietnam.

Lovells is also expanding in East Asia. The firm has recruited Johnson Stokes & Master corporate consultant Jamie Barr as a partner in Hong Kong.

The firm’s Beijing practice has also just taken on an extra 700 square metres in the Beijing Oriental Plaza, which is enough to accommodate 30 extra lawyers.