International Eye: Asia

UK firms enjoy Chinese market expansion
Good news for UK firms looking to beef up in the Far East. Exclusive research by The Lawyer Global 100 (full report out 30 October) reveals that UK firms are the most successful in terms of increasing their representation in China.

While Baker & McKenzie remains the largest foreign firm in China with 211 lawyers, eight out of the top 10 largest foreign firms in China, in terms of headcount, are headquartered in the UK. These include magic circle firms Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Over the past year, a stream of UK firms, including Clyde & Co, Norton Rose and Pinsent Masons, have opened or have announced their intention to open offices in mainland China.

US firms including Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Kirkland & Ellis and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe have also opened offices or boosted their Chinese presence with further openings. Meanwhile, DLA Piper has also launched in Beijing.

Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, for example, has ramped up its Asian presence by launching an office in Beijing. The US firm now has 40 lawyers in its offices in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and now Beijing.

Not to be outdone, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham and US firm Preston Gates & Ellis are in merger talks, which could see the creation of a 1,400-lawyer firm, with Asian offices in Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing.

Fried Frank lures Simmons team for China office
IT IS not good news for all UK firms. Simmons & Simmons suffered a devastating blow to its China practice last month as Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson raided the UK firm’s China practice in a bid to launch its own operations in the region.

Fried Frank, which has offices in New York, Washington, London, Paris and Frankfurt, has inherited a strong team to begin its assault on the China region, poaching the five partners from Simmons’ Hong Kong and Shanghai offices.

Simmons’ China regional managing partner Huen Wong has already moved across. He will be joined by Simmons’ head of corporate in China, Stephen Mok, who counts HSBC, DBS Capital and New World China Land, as clients. Construction specialist Philip Nunn, real-estate partner Raymond Kwok and Shanghai-based partner Mike Hickman are also set to leave Simmons.

Simmons’ managing partner Mark Dawkins says of the departures: “We’re always sorry to see partners go – some of these partners have been with the firm a long time. We wish them all well.”

The losses are yet another blow for Simmons’ Asia ambitions. The firm also lost Mok’s predecessor as corporate group head Nick Norris last year to another US firm. Norris left in July 2005 to join Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom as head of corporate and capital markets.

Clifford Chance aims to double size in China
Clifford Chance is, meanwhile, homing in on its ambitious plans to double in size in mainland China within the next five years to more than 100 lawyers ( 30 September).

During August and September the magic circle firm hired six lawyers for its Hong Kong office in as many weeks, boosting its China litigation presence by 25 per cent.

Not happy to stop there, Clifford Chance has since announced plans for further growth in Greater China within the coming three months. It is actively recruiting for China-based lawyers, to further bolster the Shanghai and Beijing litigation and dispute resolution teams.

Elsewhere in Asia, Clifford Chance is set to save £10m with its plan to transfer 300 jobs to Delhi next year as part of a wider push to slash £30m off its overheads.

As first revealed on www.thelawyer. com (2 October), the magic circle firm will launch a shared-service centre in Delhi early next year, comprising part of the global finance and IT support function.

But the news has ruffled more than a few back-office feathers. The firm is about to enter consultation with staff as the accounting and IT functions in various centres around the globe, including London, will be downsized.

Freshfields turns back on Singapore office
Two years after closing the doors on its Bangkok office, magic circle firm Freshfields has closed its twopartner Singapore office in a bid to increasingly focus on its Asia strategy in China.

As first reported on www. (21 September), the shock move will result in the relocation of two partners to Hong Kong, while staff will also be offered positions there.

Freshfields partner and ex-chief executive Hugh Crisp said: “China’s where the biggest demand for legal work is. Growth in our China practice has been substantial thanks to the booming IPO market and the surge in M&A activity.”

Sources within the firm claim the Singapore closure is more likely the result of the office’s waning operating profit before partner drawings.

Herbies, Freshfields take record IPO roles
This month’s flotation of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) looks set to hit the record books, eclipsing the $11bn (£5.93bn) Bank of China IPO earlier this year. ICBC will be the first major Chinese firm to list simultaneously on the mainland and overseas stock market. ICBC is the third of the ‘big four’ state-owned commercial banks to list on the stock market after the Bank of China and China Construction Bank, which listed in June this year and November last year, respectively.

As revealed on (26 June), Herbert Smith and Freshfields scooped lead Hong Kong roles on the flotation of ICBC, which is expected to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai Bourse on 27 October, raising up to $21.8bn (£11.75bn).

Herbert Smith is advising ICBC, China’s largest commercial bank, as issuer on Hong Kong law. The team is being led by Beijing partners Michael Fosh and Jeremy Xiao.

Freshfields is advising the underwriters on Hong Kong law, working with Shearman & Sterling, which will provide US law advice.

The team at Freshfields is being led by Teresa Ko, while Matthew Bersani is heading the team at Shearman.

Talks pay off for Lovells, SJ Berwin
It seems it really is good to talk, given the success of Lovells and SJ Berwin’s recent preliminary discussions with law firms and clients in India and Pakistan.

SJ Berwin’s senior partner Jonathan Blake saw almost immediate results from his trip to India over the summer. He met 10 Indian law firms with the aim of developing formal referral agreements or alliances. The meetings have already resulted in one client referral to the silver circle firm.

Blake also met representatives of the National Law School of India University in Bangalore to discuss the possibility of taking on trainees and recruiting a greater number of Indian lawyers. Several candidates have shown an interest.

Meanwhile, Lovells’ finance partner Andrew Carey teamed up with several representatives from the London Stock Exchange on a trip to Pakistan last month to visit companies in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore in an attempt to attract Pakistan issuers to the capital.

The trip comes as Lovells targets increased instructions from Pakistan. The firm recently advised Standard Chartered (Pakistan) on its $413m (£222.51m) acquisition of an 80.9 per cent stake in Union Bank, understood to be the biggest acquisition in the Pakistan banking sector to date.