OC set to launch in Asia following raid on Bird & Bird’s Hong Kong base

Osborne Clarke is set to extend its presence into Hong Kong, with the hire of a prominent team from Bird & Bird.

Marcus Vass, who heads up Bird & Bird’s communications, media and technology group in Asia, has been lined up to join Osborne Clarke alongside corporate partner John Koh and a number of associates. 

According to Hong Kong regulatory rules, the two partners will launch their own firm in the jurisdiction, entering a formal association with the UK-based outfit. In three years time, that firm will be able to officially call itself Osborne Clarke. 

It’s thought that Vass and Koh’s new firm will be up and running this summer, with an office based in the city’s central business district. 

The decision to push into Asia marks a new phase in Osborne Clarke’s international strategy, which previously focused on expansion in Western Europe and the US. CEO Simon Beswick said: “We’ve been planning on supporting clients in a number of industry sectors on their legal needs in Asia for some time and this is the first step in our strategy to do so.”

Osborne Clarke has launched or formally bolted-on 10 new offices in Europe, and two in the US since 2012, growing from a £98.2m outfit to a £142m revenue firm in that time (12 May 2014). Its associated Hong Kong base will bring that office tally up to 13. 

The team’s exit may be a knock to Bird & Bird’s strategy in Asia. As well as heading up the firm’s communications, media and technology group in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, Vass oversees the firm’s transactional offering in the region. 

He is Bird & Bird’s relationship partner with Hwang Mok Park (HMP) – one of Korea’s largest firms, with which it entered a cooperative agreement in February 2014 (25 February 2014). At the time of the informal tie-up, Bird & Bird’s managing partner David Kerr labelled Asia as the firm’s “top priority” (26 February 2014). 

In 2012, Bird & Bird relocated long-serving London partner and global board member Justin Walkey to Hong Kong to kickstart expansion in the region under the mantle of Asia Pacific chairman. 

Vass and Koh have experience in a range of sectors including media, telecoms, automotive, retail, life sciences, energy and utilities. However, Osborne Clarke is planning to initially orientate the new office around digital business – mirroring the firm’s approach to growth in Europe and the US. 

The pair’s exit leaves 13 partners in Bird & Bird’s China and Hong Kong offices, and 29 across its entire Asia Pacific practice. 

In the past few years the firm has bolstered its Pan-Asian alliance network, signing a strategic cooperation agreement with two Jakarta-based firms in June (25 June 2014). In addition to its alliance with HMP, Bird & Bird has also tied up with Australian TMT boutique Truman Hoyle, Chinese firm Lawjay Partners and Malaysian firm Tay & Partners. 

For more details on Osborne Clarke’s approach to international expansion, see last week’s interview with Beswick, Cue the next phase.