Reed Smith” />Richards Butler’s Hong Kong office looks set to sever ties with Richards Butler London and US suitor Reed Smith.

The Hong Kong office, which operates as an independent partnership to Richards Butler UK, applied to the Chinese Ministry of Justice to transfer the firm’s Beijing licence from the UK firm to the Hong Kong operation, but has been knocked back and is now applying for its own licence to operate in the Chinese capital.

Reed Smith UK managing partner Tim Foster said: “There have been further discussions [about Hong Kong coming on board], which have been positive and there’s optimism from the Reed Smith side that they’ll continue.”

Richards Butler Hong Kong has always been fiercely independent, but has a good relationship with the London office. The profit per equity partner of £900,000 in Hong Kong dwarfs that in London, which is just £390,000. The office’s £27.9m turnover amounts to almost a third of the overall firm’s £90m total.

US firm Reed Smith has been keen to bring Hong Kong on board in the merger, but sources claim those efforts have been in vain. Sources believe the Hong Kong office is searching for another US firm to link up with, but it would like to stay independent.

Reed Smith agreed to merge with Richards Butler UK (which includes operations in Europe and the Middle East) in April, as first reported on (5 April).

Richards Butler Hong Kong has remained aloof from the merger. Reed Smith chairman Greg Jordan has met Richards Butler Hong Kong senior partner Chris Howse only once, just after the US-UK merger agreement was signed.