Texas firm Vinson & Elkins has entered into a “visiting lawyer relationship” with Beijing-based Chinese firm King & Woods, via four lawyers who have deserted fellow US practice Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom's Beijing office.

Handel Lee leads the team from Skadden Arps and has joined Vinsons as a partner. He was the firm's former chief representative in Beijing.

The other lawyers are Nancy Murphy and Margaret Maggio, who will join the firm as associates, and Xiao Yong, a Chinese citizen who spent 11 years with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation.

None of the four was available for comment.

Heavyweight partner and ex-head of Vinsons' London office Paul Deemer has left the firm's Singapore operation to join the former Skadden Arps lawyers at the King & Woods office in Beijing.

But although Vinsons is calling its association with Kings as a “visiting lawyer relationship”, the Kings office in Beijing was describing itself to callers last week as Vinson & Elkins, and describing Deemer as head of the office.

China recently announced a limit of 80 foreign firms in 19 cities as well as a set of further conditions applying to foreign lawyers.

Vinsons partner John Ale, who recently moved from Houston to the firm's London office, said the firm had established a China practice because of client demands. “It's the same reason we have a presence in London or Moscow.”

Commenting from London, James Healey, European Counsel to Skadden Arps, said: “A few associates left. Associates leave all the time. Our China practice is much larger than the individuals.”

The firm has 17 lawyers and four partners left in its China practice but only three remain in Beijing.