De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, the Dutch member of Linklaters & Alliance, will become the first Dutch firm to open in China.
It will receive its licence from the Chinese Ministry of Justice on 12 April and plans to open the office in Beijing at the end of the summer.
The move consolidates De Brauw’s leading status among Dutch firms in terms of international strategy. The firm already has offices in Brussels, London, New York and Prague.
De Brauw partner Peter Declercq, currently based in London, will move to the new office and will take another lawyer with him. They will practise Dutch law backed up by local Chinese lawyers. The initiative will focus on Dutch and other European investors active in China and Chinese clients trading and investing in the Netherlands.
Rotterdam M&A partner Frans Rosendaal, who is coordinating the initiative, says: “We think we can do a much better job by being in China. Our expertise and knowledge will improve if we are on the ground.”
Linklaters already has offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Rosendaal says: “They will be two separate offices but where we can work together and assist each other we will do so.” He adds that Linklaters will be able to assist De Brauw in recruiting Chinese lawyers.
The overlap also raises difficult issues if De Brauw votes to merge with Linklaters. China’s Ministry of Justice allows only one licence per firm, although that regulation has been waived in the case of Clifford Chance and Pünder Volhard Weber & Axster, both of which had Chinese offices before they merged.
Rosendaal says: “We will look at that when we are there and address that issue. There are certainly ideas about how we would do that. It’s a sensitive issue for the authorities.”
The move comes as China is poised to join the World Trade Organisation, encouraging overseas investment.