Norton Rose opens Hong Kong practice

Three-year restrictive covenant ends; old HK team reunited

Norton Rose is set to open a new Hong Kong office just two days after a restrictive covenant preventing it from practising in Hong Kong expires. The firm will open its doors with a six-partner team, the nucleus of which is staff from its old Hong Kong office.
Norton Rose opened in Hong Kong in the mid-1970s with a joint venture with Johnson Stokes & Master, but in 1998 it terminated the association.
According to Norton Rose’s Asia head Paul Giles, the firm wanted to refocus on corporate finance, asset finance and litigation, and wanted to take advantage of the firm’s global brand. However, the joint venture agreement contained a covenant stating that Norton Rose could not practise in Hong Kong for three years after the termination of the partnership.
The opening of the new office will see some of Norton Rose’s old Hong Kong team reunited. David Stannard, who will head the Hong Kong office, will rejoin former colleagues Jim James, Peter Haslam and Graeme Muir. Banking partner Haslam and litigation partner James were relocated to the Singapore office when the old office was closed, while Muir returned to London. They will be joined by London partners Giles Brand and Glenn Hall.
Stannard has spent three years in-house at the Hong Kong Securities and Exchange Commission. His knowledge of the Hong Kong takeover code will stand the firm in good stead for M&A work, but it still faces a battle to rebuild its Hong Kong practice.
The firm has a good stable of global clients, including Cathay Pacific and HSBC, which it must win back for Hong Kong work. Giles said: “It was regrettable that we had to go through a three-year period of pain, but we’re very confident that we can turn things around.”
The firm has been out of the market during an economic slowdown when corporate finance work has been thin on the ground and will benefit from going back in at a period when ground rents are fairly low and quality associates are easier to pick up. The firm has taken space in Jardine House, which it intends to fill with Hong Kong-qualified associates and some lateral hires.
The firm is also planing to open a Beijing office in the near future.