Norton Rose in battle to keep HSBC as Freshfields pounces

Norton Rose’s grip on trophy client HSBC weakened as magic circle firm finally lands massive Asia deal for bank

Norton Rose in battle to keep HSBC as Freshfields pounces” />Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has muscled in on Norton Rose trophy client HSBC Holdings. The magic circle firm has landed instructions to advise the UK-based bank on the acquisition of a 19.9 per cent stake in Bank of Communications, China’s fifth-largest lender.

The instruction is a coup for Freshfields because, although the firm has had a relationship with HSBC for a number of years, the bank has historically outsourced virtually all of its corporate work to Norton Rose. In 2002, Norton Rose advised HSBC on the £8.81bn acquisition of Household International in the US. It also acted for the bank on the acquisition of Republic National Bank and Credit Commercial de France.

Freshfields has been targeting HSBC for some time because it is understood that Norton Rose’s historically rock-solid relationship with the bank has gradually been weakening. Norton Rose lost its place on HSBC’s Hong Kong panel following the termination of its joint venture with Johnson Stokes & Master (JSM) in 1998. Although it stormed back onto the panel two years ago, it is understood that a number of firms have since been trying to cosy up to the bank.

Other firms on the bank’s Hong Kong panel include Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Linklaters, as well as Freshfields and JSM.

In a statement issued on 24 June, HSBC confirmed it was in talks with the Shanghai-based bank. It said the acquisition, reported to be worth from $1bn (£550.7m) to $2bn (£1.1bn), is subject to agreeing final terms and to obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals.

The deal is being handled by HSBC’s Hong Kong general counsel Kenneth Ng, who was unavailable for comment.

Freshfields and Norton Rose declined to comment.