International eye: Asia

Donna Sawyer on the month in Asia

Slaughters loses second corporate partner in HK

It’s never a big surprise when a partner jumps ship to another firm – unless that partner is from Slaughter and May.

So the legal community raised a collective eyebrow when The Lawyer (13 March) first reported that the firm had lost its second corporate partner from its Hong Kong office in just three months.

Local corporate partner Paul Chow is set to join Linklaters on 18 April . His departure is the first time Slaughters has lost a partner to a rival firm in Hong Kong.

Slaughters practice partner David Frank was quick to jump to the firm’s defence, reaffirming its commitment to the Hong Kong office.

Frank told The Lawyer that Chow’s move to Linklaters was motivated by a fundamental difference of opinion with regards to the firm’s strategy in China.

“Paul’s always been very keen on having a presence in Shanghai and Beijing in terms of the potential for business,” he said. “Our strategy has been to maintain friendships with firms in China and other foreign jurisdictions, and that will remain the same.”

Chow’s move comes after Richard Jones left Slaughters in January to join the in-house department of the firm’s longstanding client GE Consumer Finance.

Both Chow and Jones were salaried partners at Slaughters.

Chow said China was set to be a growth area for corporate work in the coming years. “As clients increasingly see their future being linked with developments in China, Linklaters’ investment and commitment to be number one in Greater China and Asia makes it the ideal opportunity for me,” he said.

New White & Case star acts on China’s first LBO

Simmons & Simmons could sympathise with Slaughter and May. It too was feeling the pinch after foreign investment star Seung Chong quit the firm to join White & Case at the end of January.

As first reported by The Lawyer (27 February), Chong took White & Case to a new frontier by acting on China’s first leveraged buyout (LBO) just one month after he joined the firm from Simmons.

White & Case advised Pacific Alliance on the $122.5m (£70.1m) acquisition of Goodbaby Group, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of baby strollers and children’s products.

Chong added that it was likely there would be more LBOs in China because financing had become more accessible.

“Growing incomes and the changing behaviour of Chinese consumers towards babycare are driving the rapid growth of the sector,” he said. “The ability to structure the transaction as a leveraged buyout shows that private equity investors now have a greater set of options when investing in China, and we expect to see more of these transactions in the future.”

Allen & Overy acted on behalf of leveraged finance provider Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank, while Sidley Austin Brown & Wood acted for Goodbaby.

Freshfields embraces salaried partner model

Meanwhile, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was devising radical plans to ditch its sacred all-equity partnership model in China and Hong Kong.

As first reported by The Lawyer (27 February), the momentous move is set to see the magic circle firm create salaried partners for its successful Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai practices.

Freshfields Asia chief Perry Noble argues that the move would be a retention tool and a defensive measure aimed at reducing the risk of senior associates jumping ship to rival firms when they miss out on partnership.

He says: “It takes a complex mix of attributes to be an equity partner at Freshfields. Even with great raw material, much depends on the development opportunity, the types of clients you act for, the nature of the deals you handle and the quality of practitioners you interact with. Some other firms aren’t as strict.”

Noble argues that it is more difficult to polish up on these skills in developing economies.

“The purpose of salaried partners is to help our senior lawyers refine these skill sets. We envisage this to be a two to three-year process, after which the salaried partners would be expected to graduate to full equity.”

The first batch of salaried partners is expected to be made up at the start of the 2007-08 financial year, with between three and five senior associates being promoted to the rank within five years.

Noble says the need for salaried partners in Freshfields’ China practice is likely to disappear over time.

The move is significant in that only last month Freshfields senior partner Guy Morton told The Lawyer that he favoured the equity model (The Lawyer, 30 January).

Freshfields is the only magic circle firm that is an all-equity partnership. There are currently 14 partners in Hong Kong, three in Beijing and four in Shanghai.

Freshfields’ Moser moseys over to O’Melveny

In a separate move, Freshfields China managing partner Mike Moser has retired from the partnership to join O’Melveny & Myers.

As first reported by The Lawyer (27 February), the shock move will see Moser take the role of co-head of the US firm’s China practice alongside Howard Chao.

Back at Freshfields, Moser has been replaced by New York-qualified M&A specialist Douglas Markel.

Moser said he decided to join O’Melveny because it had more US clients and a larger US base.

He said that, as co-head of the group, he was going to focus on building numbers with a “number of lateral hires”.

He added: “We’re also going to build a strong team for international dispute resolution, especially in the settlement of business disputes between Chinese and foreign entities.”

Stephensons raids rival for trademark expert

In Another case of itchy feet, Wilkinson & Grist partner Chloe Lee has quit the firm to join Stephenson Harwood & Lo as head of the firm’s IP practice in Hong Kong.

Lee is set to join the firm’s specialist IP team, which handles the registration and protection of trademarks and service marks, copyright, designs and patents throughout Asia.

She has extensive experience in a wide spectrum of IP-related work covering non-contentious, contentious, enforcement and domain name dispute resolution.

Lee has advised on the restructuring of IP profiles for a number of leading companies in Hong Kong.

Stephensons Hong Kong managing partner John Gale told The Lawyer that the move formed part of the firm’s plan to expand its IP practice.

“Chloe’s appointment underlines the firm’s continued focus on intellectual property as an important element of our client service, and we look forward to expanding our IP services within the greater China region,” he said.