2011 Round-up – US: Asia Terrific

Australia is playing host to more UK firms, while partner moves, mergers and expansion have set the tone for the Asian market

The expansion of UK firms in Australia continued its momentum, with Clifford Chance and DLA Piper ­completing mergers with local firms. Ashurst’s tie-up with Blake Dawson, which was announced in September, was another example of UK firms trying to muscle their way into Asia-Pacific. The tie-up will see the firms combine their Asian ­operations by next March and merge by 2014.

In Singapore Allen & Overy made headlines when it confirmed its ­preliminary talks with Allen & Gledhill, one of the largest Singaporean firms, which has had a joint venture with Linklaters for 10 years. Discussions are ongoing.

Out of Asia

More eye-catching and ground-breaking is the upcoming tie-up between top-tier Chinese firm King & Wood and Australia’s Mallesons Stephens Jacques. The deal was announced in July this year and both firms have recently given their ­backing to the combination, which could go live in the first quarter
of 2012.

This move is expected to ­transform the global legal market by spawning a major international firm that did not originate in either the UK or the US and will represent a first and ­critical step for the globalisation of Asia-based firms.

Apart from King & Wood, a ­number of other Chinese law firms have made strides in their ­international expansion. Dacheng and Yingke, both Beijing-­headquartered, thousand-lawyer firms, have opened several overseas offices in the past year. Most ­recently Dacheng launched a branch office in Chicago, while Yingke opened
in London.

Hong Kong hops

In Hong Kong the past year has been characterised by a high level of ­partner mobility. So far this year more than two dozen partners have made the move between
firms in Hong Kong. Most of these are Hong Kong-qualified with a focus on ­corporate and capital ­markets.

Many of the moves were driven by US firms’ Hong Kong expansion and localisation strategies. These ­partner moves and new entries are expected to shift the market dynamics in Hong Kong significantly in the ­coming years.

Seoul power

Korea, traditionally a forbidden market for foreign firms, has emerged as a land of opportunity after the recent ratification of free trade agreements with the EU and the US. The agreements will allow US, UK and European law firms to practise in the country for the first time.

US firms with established Korean practices, such as Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Paul Hastings, have confirmed plans to open Seoul offices upon regulatory approval. DLA Piper and Ashurst have also expressed an interest in launching in Seoul in the near future.