If Simmons & Simmons is permitted to open a Beijing office later this year, the firm is considering making it a life sciences hub.
The Chinese authorities are yet to approve a licence for a Beijing office, which would be Simmons' second mainland China operation after Shanghai. The firm has been in Hong Kong for 25 years.
The top 15 firm would join the magic circle and DLA Piper, Lovells and Norton Rose in having capabilities in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Simmons managing partner Mark Dawkins said: "Beijing is a different proposition from Shanghai and originally we thought it was an important place to develop government contacts. But since then we're thinking of putting a life science team there."
Beijing is often used as a capital markets axis with Hong Kong. Dawkins warned against an overdependence on Chinese IPO work last year.
The firm has also recently relocated corporate partner Charles Mayo from London to Hong Kong to head the Asian team for life sciences, which is one of the firm's key sectors.
Simmons wants to benefit from interest from leading pharmaceutical companies, many of which are already Simmons clients.
IP partner Richard Binns said: "It's a client-driven strategy, the thinking being that China's going to be one of the key markets in healthcare."
A partner at a magic circle firm said: "Avoiding duplication in any jurisdiction where you have multiple offices is always a problem, particularly in a competitive market where you want to grow."