Orrick scores Coudert’s eminent China practice

Despite being the firm that put the final nail in the coffin of Coudert Brothers, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe has been the first to benefit from its downfall with the capture of the firm’s prestigious China practice.

Nine of Coudert’s 11 equity partners in China were admitted to Orrick’s partnership last Friday (2 September). Orrick will be taking on all of Coudert’s property commitments in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

“We see value in bringing entire groups to Orrick. In addition to the value of each individual, the team brings a value that is brought by their cohesion and their history of working together. There are these intangibles that only time and working together can produce,” Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter told The Lawyer.

All of Coudert’s associates and staff will be offered jobs as part of the deal, leaving just former managing partner Jingzhou Tao and equity partner Laetitia Tjoa out in the cold. The pair has a distinct client base from the rest of the team and they are in the midst of negotiating their own deal with another firm.

“The work these lawyers have accomplished in China is truly remarkable. They were the first to take the bold move to establish a legal presence in Hong Kong and Beijing. They have an unparalleled reputation in China and they bring an intimate knowledge of Chinese law, economics and culture,” said Baxter.

Orrick is also set to take a number of partners involved with the China practice in the US, including Owen Nee, who played a major role in the establishment of Coudert’s China practice with the opening of its Beijing office in 1979, the first of any foreign law firm.

The decision of Nee, and other partners such as Michael Hagan, who has quit for the New York office of Morrison & Foerster, to go it alone has put a serious dent in the ambitions of Baker & McKenzie (B&M), which was hoping to take on Coudert’s New York office.

Last week Coudert was desperately attempting to bring together the New York office in a last-ditch attempt to transfer the office to B&M. But the highest-performing partners have plenty of offers on the table, which is likely to make make a deal very difficult.

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary has also been quick to strike and last week voted to take on Coudert’s Frankfurt office. DLA Piper will open the office in October with 10 lawyers, including Coudert’s local managing partner Michael Magotsch.

DLA Piper has also been in advanced discussions with Coudert’s Belgian operation, but these have hit a snag as the practice looks set to split between the group that was Coppens Van Ommeslaghe & Faures (which merged with Coudert in 2000) and the legacy international practice of Coudert.

The situation has been confused further by some lawyers’ decisions to split. Litigation partner Geoffroy de Foestraets is the first to break cover. He is joining the Brussels office of Jones Day as head of litigation.

The French office of Coudert is still in discussions with two US firms, but McDermott Will & Emery has dropped out of the running.

Australia has been split by the decision of the property group to join Phillips Fox, while Bangkok and Shanghai are two weeks from a deal.