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Appleby has become the first offshore firm to obtain a licence from China’s Ministry of Justice that allows it to offer offshore legal services in the country.
Appleby has had a Shanghai base since 2012, but has so far only been permitted to provide fiduciary services prior to the legal practice licence gain. The firm has named partner Malcolm Moller to lead the development of its new legal offering in China. Moller is currently the managing partner of Appleby’s Mauritius office but will spend a significant amount of time in China. He will be supported by associate Kate Li in Shanghai as well as the firm’s team in Hong Kong that has over 15 partners and fee-earners.
“We’ve been covering the China market for 25 years now. The fact that we can now offer a full suite of legal and fiduciary services in China, similar to what we do in all our other offices, means we can bring our relationship with clients there much closer and service them better,” said Appleby group chairman Frances Woo, who is also the Hong Kong managing partner.
Appleby, like many of its offshore rivals, has traditionally serviced China from Hong Kong, but Woo said she believed the market had matured and that it was time to expand into the legal market.
“Offshore firms are different from onshore international firms, which have gone to China a long time ago. We’ve waited for the market to become more sophisticated and mature before we can justify being going up there for legal work,” Woo added.
“We’re at the stage right now, where Chinese financial intuitions, state-owned enterprises and private companies are doing a lot more cross-border outbound acquisition work and are more sophisticated in understanding and usage of offshore firms as intermediaries in their transactions.”
Apart from Appleby, Ogier is the only other offshore firm that has a presence in China with a Shanghai office opened in 2011. But Ogier’s Shanghai office is understood to be mainly a marketing base acting as a referal point to Hong Kong and the rest of its network, instead of a Ministry of Justice registered foreign legal practice. A partner of the firm indicated that Ogier currently has no plan to apply for a licence or to offer offshore legal services in mainland China.