Not content to be outdone by their rivals, US firms are vying to get in on the Chinese action.

US big-hitters play catch-up in Chinese market

Not content to be outdone by their rivals, US firms are vying to get in on the Chinese action.

Earlier this month Fulbright & Jaworski opened its second Asian office by launching in Beijing. Fulbright chairman Steve Pfeiffer says: “Our China-related practice has grown rapidly during the past few years. Beijing is a natural step for us.”

The firm has maintained an office in Hong Kong since 1990 and will transfer partners Jeffrey Blount and Michael Arruda from the city to Beijing. Blount will take the dual role of Hong Kong and Beijing managing partner. He says: “China continues to be among the most dynamic and important markets for many of our global clients.”

Good news for San Francisco-headquartered Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman as the 860-lawyer firm finally had its China practising licence approved by the Chinese authorities after a year of waiting.

The firm will now open a Shanghai office and the hope is that the new office will leverage off the Silicon Valley office’s venture capital clients and focus on US flotations of Chinese technology companies.

It really seems that when one door opens another door closes. While Pillsbury is launching in Shanghai, it has decided to close its Taiwan offering in Taipei, which according to the firm’s chairman Jim Rishwain “doesn’t fit our overall strategy”. It does not really fit with the Chinese government’s overall strategy either.

While Taipei may ‘not fit’ with Pillsbury’s overall strategy, Baker & McKenzie, Jones Day, Morrison & Foerster and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe all remain in the city.

Elsewhere, Kirkland & Ellis, which recently secured its local operating licence in Hong Kong and is on track to launch its office before the year end, has wasted no time in setting up shop in Hong Kong and the firm already has deals in the pipeline, even before opening its office.

Private equity partner David Eich, who has relocated from London to Hong Kong to head the new office, tells The Lawyer: “We’re already heavily involved in several transactions and initiatives in the region but aren’t yet practising in Hong Kong.”

Linklaters, Simmons up China headcounts
The end of the year is fast approaching, which often means one thing – management reshuffles. And this year is no exception. Linklaters’ Asia practice is in the midst of a major restructuring and Asia head Simon Davies is set to return to London in May 2007. Global finance head Giles White is taking over and senior capital markets partner Nigel Pridmore is also relocating to Hong Kong.

Pridmore tells The Lawyer: “Clearly China is one of the areas which is a major opportunity and we want to make sure that the region is properly staffed by bulking up the capital markets coverage. It is quite likely that we’ll grow the Hong Kong office further.”

After more than a month of uncertainty, Simmons & Simmons has made brave attempts to rebuild its China offering.

Following the raid by Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson in September, Hong Kong head of financial services Paul Li was appointed to the post of China regional managing partner, which was left open by the shock departure of Huen Wong. Employment partner Fiona Loughrey had been caretaking as interim China managing partner.

Simmons managing partner Mark Dawkins tells The Lawyer that Li’s appointment marks a “restabilisation” of Simmons’ regional teams. Simmons has been quick to take three corporate associates, with two from Clifford Chance joining in the Hong Kong office and one from Herbert Smith joining Shanghai. The firm now has to fill the partner headcount depleted by the exodus to Fried Frank.

The Shanghai office will see a particular focus on hiring, says Dawkins. It currently only has 22 lawyers, while the Hong Kong office has 120.

After launching its first mainland office in Shanghai earlier this year, Dominic Lee has been named as Clyde & Co‘s first managing partner of the firm’s growing Hong Kong and China practice. Lee, who has been a partner at Clydes in Hong Kong since 1997, will oversee the development of the firm’s Hong Kong and mainland China offering in the newly created role and will also focus on supplying the firm with regional banking and asset finance capabilities in order to provide a full service for clients.

Phillips Fox Vietnam plumps for AAR tie-up
After rejecting the advances of DLA Piper, Phillips Fox’s two Vietnam offices in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have hooked up with Slaughter and May‘s Australian best friend Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR).

Earlier this year Phillips Fox’s two Vietnam offices decided not to join the DLA Piper network, despite the firm’s eight Australian and New Zealand offices joining up.

At the time Nigel Russell, joint managing partner at Phillips Fox Vietnam, did not rule out joining DLA Piper at some point in the future. Well, it seems that it was not to be and the Vietnam practices have been wooed by a different suitor.

The Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City practices of Phillips Fox will link up with AAR from 1 January 2007, subject to regulatory approval, taking over the premises for the two partners and 17 other lawyers.

It has been a busy year for Phillips Fox, which will rebrand as DLA Phillips Fox later this year and become a member of the DLA Piper Group – firms that share the brand and access to resources but remain financially independent.

In September the firm announced that it is to merge with the Perth partnership of Gadens Lawyers, boosting its presence in the Western Australian city.

India proves cash cow for Slaughters
India has proven a lucrative market for Slaughter and May, which bagged lead roles on two of India’s most prominent deals, one of which was advising longstanding client Cairn Energy on its float on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Slaughters relationship partner Charles Randell says: “India’s a very important market for Slaughter and May.

“We act for both Indian companies and those investing in India. It’s definitely a market we’re watching.”

The energy company, the Indian assets of which lie mainly in the Rajasthan oilfields, also used Scottish adviser Shepherd & Wedderburn, as well as Davis Polk & Wardwell and Indian stalwart Amarchand Mangaldas & Suresh in the proposed flotation, which the company hopes will raise at least £618m. Slaughters also featured alongside Herbert Smith on Tata Steel UK’s £5.1bn takeover of Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus Group in the biggest takeover by an Indian business of a foreign company to date.

Slaughters represented Corus Group, Europe’s second largest steel producer, on the recommended offer by Tata Steel, for the entire issued, and to be issued, share capital of Corus, valuing Corus at £4.3bn.