Foreign firms push IP for China incursion
Law Firms are wasting no time in putting China high on their agendas for 2007. The bustling Shanghai legal market is particularly busy and a number of firms have already launched offices there this year. Within just seven days US firms Foley & Lardner, McDermott Will & Emery and UK patent and trademark attorney Marks & Clerk have all either set up shop or are in the process of doing so on the Chinese mainland.

The firms are placing IP at the heart of their China strategy. As the life sciences, telecoms and manufacturing industries begin to mature, there are more opportunities for foreign firms to pick up Chinese IP clients.

McDermott is no stranger to international IP and Foley has hired Weil Gotshal & Manges China IP head Catherine Sun, despite not yet having a licence to set up in Shanghai.

Meanwhile, the attorneys at Marks & Clerk are marketing themselves expressly as IP experts to big Chinese clients doing international business, reflecting the fact that IP in China now means more than simply protecting Europeans against counterfeiters.

Arnold & Porter rethink prompts Asia launch
Washington DC-based Arnold & Porter is also reviewing its strategy in Asia. Senior management is planning to launch the firm’s first presence in the region as well as dramatically building up the London office.

“London’s a critically important market to us, as increasingly are India and China,” says the firm’s new chairman Tom Milch. “We’ve identified that we want to globalise and build out the practice in line with our clients.”

Arnold & Porter’s renewed focus on Asia will give the firm a wider international reach; some 90 per cent of its lawyers are based in the US, with only two foreign outposts in London and Brussels.

Wragges shuns Shanghai for HK and Guangzhou
While Shanghai seems to be the city of choice for a number of firms this year, UK firm Wragge & Co has an alternative strategy for China.

As first reported by The Lawyer (19 February 2007), Wragges is set to launch in Hong Kong within the month, giving the firm its first presence outside Europe. The firm is also set to open an office in Guangzhou. It will open both offices with German ally Graf von Westphalen.

Wragges managing partner Quentin Poole tells The Lawyer: “Guangzhou is very close to Hong Kong and it’s the largest manufacturing centre in China. It’s also a very unfished market. We felt it was much more interesting than the very mature market in Shanghai.”

Poole says he expects the Hong Kong office to launch with around 10 lawyers and Guangzhou with eight.

The firm has already sent two associates out to Hong Kong in preparation for the launch. Once the offices are open IP partner Gordon Harris and corporate partner Christopher Hughes will spend their time between the UK and China.

“We intend to recruit locally and it’s very likely that we’ll permanently relocate some lawyers from the UK to China,” Poole adds.

The Chinese venture will create the firm’s second and third overseas offices. In addition to its Birmingham headquarters, Wragges has offices in Brussels and London.

BLP and Duane Morris enjoy Singapore flings
Another UK firm to launch in Asia this year is Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), which opened its Singapore base earlier this month after hiring Asian corporate M&A heavyweight Paul Supramaniam from Latham & Watkins, where he was head of English law for the Asia practice.

“Singapore is a good centre from which to access the South East Asia region. It’s growing in stature as a financial centre and is attracting increasing business from India, China and the Middle East,” says BLP managing partner Neville Eisenberg.

Eisenberg adds that there are no plans to open a similar office in China. Asia appears to be high on the list for BLP this year – the firm is in the process of finalising its list of preferred non-exclusive referral firms for India, where it is expected to forge links in each of the major commercial centres.

It is not just BLP, however, that is recognising the attractions of Singapore. Duane Morris launched in Singapore in January, with lateral hires from Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Jones Day, Shearman & Sterling and White & Case.2007 looks set to be a busy year for the Philadelphia-headquartered firm, which also intends to open two offices in Vietnam, in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, by March. The firm will be only the second US firm with offices in the country.

Brown Rudnick forms link in India as Jetco talks progress
While BLP opts to establish non-exclusive referral relationships with a number of Indian firms, US firm Brown Rudnick has entered into an exclusive referral relationship with Bangalore-based Poovayya & Co. The tie-up gives the Boston-based firm a foothold in the booming India market at a time when the UK-India Joint Economic and Trade Committee (Jetco) legal talks have made a dramatic breakthrough, with India’s official legal body the Bar Council of India joining negotiations on the liberalisation of the Indian legal services market.

In January the UK Jetco legal team, which consists of the Law Society of England and Wales, Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance and Pinsent Masons, travelled to India in a bid to progress talks with the Indian Bar Council.

After the trip Law Society head of international Alison Hook told The Lawyer: “The trip went better than we could have hoped for. We’re running a marathon, but we’ve now crossed the starting line.”

Clifford Chance consultant Sir Thomas Legg, who chairs the UK Jetco legal team, says: “We’ve made progress. We’re now negotiating with an Indian team that includes the official body. The people we’re negotiating with are the people who really matter.”

Fox Mandal in outsourcing venture
India’s largest law firm Fox Mandal is joining forces with UK-based outsourcing firm Centric to launch an offshore outsourcing firm for Western law firms in New Delhi.

Fox Mandal and Centric are linking up with Hinduja Group to launch one of India’s largest legal process outsourcing (LPO) firms.

Fox Mandal international head Som Mandal says: “We anticipate that the LPO firm will start with at least 100 lawyers and should grow to around 2,000 in the next three years. Its main clients will be European and US law firms and in-house legal departments and it will provide services such as research, drafting and legal secretarial work.”

Fox Mandal will provide the legal advice to all parties on the three-way venture, which will be known as Centric LPO.

Pinsent Masons head of outsourcing and technology Clive Seddon says: “While it’s early doors, no one can ignore the developments in the Indian outsourcing industry, otherwise law firms may struggle with their clients, who seek efficiency and innovation.”