Sinclair Roche & Temperley has sold its entire 10-lawyer Singapore business for a "substantial" sum to shipping rival Watson Farley Williams - giving Watson Farley its first foothold in Asia.
Neale Gregson, Steven Burkill and Stuart McAlpine will join Watson Farley as partners and former office managing partner Stephen Fordham joins as a consultant on 1 September, when the sale takes effect.
Sinclairs said it had been attracted to the "substantial" sum Watson Farley was willing to pay and that maintaining an office in Singapore staffed by expat lawyers was expensive. Stuart Beadnall, marketing partner at Sinclairs' London office, said: "You can spend an awful lot of money sending out expats who then wait for the work to come in.
"We can live with the loss of three friends," he added. "It's the right business decision."
Late last year Sinclairs closed its Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi offices in Vietnam because they were not making money. In London it earlier moved from the Broadgate centre to cheaper offices at Royex House in an effort to reduce overheads.
But Beadnall denied the firm was "selling off the family silver" in a "debt reduction exercise".
Under its deal with Watson Farley, Sinclairs will be restricted from returning to Singapore for a "limited period" but will be able to service clients through its new Singapore ally Colin Ng & Partners and through its joint Shanghai office with Ng.
Watson Farley, which has been looking for a Singapore presence for some time, is sending shipping partner Nigel Thomas from London to head the Singapore office.
Rival maritime firms in Singapore said they were surprised by the sale because Sinclairs' shipping finance and litigation practice was well-respected.