Akin Gump ditches Brussels to focus on China

In a radical overhaul of its international strategy, US firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld has pulled out of Brussels and opened its first mainland China office in Beijing.

The moves are the result of a two-year strategic review. Chairman Bruce McLean said: “We decided our international offices needed to reflect our core practice areas of energy, political lobbying and hedge funds.”

It is unclear whether Brussels was profitable as the firm does not officially account for profit on an office-by-office basis. Firmwide finances have been stagnant: in 2005 (the most recent statistics available), revenue rose by only $6m (£3.1m).

McLean said: “The Brussels office was a drain on resources in that it was a deflection of management attention. It was a small office and we thought that if it wasn’t successful, we should just close.”

Akin Gump entered Brussels, its first overseas office, in 1989. Ten years ago the office had 30 lawyers but by October 2006, it had just seven, working on EU law and policy, international law, and transactions.

Meanwhile, the Beijing office will house three partners and an associate and will be headed by public law partner Eliot Cutler.

The office will concentrate on corporate work both for foreign and Chinese companies.

Akin Gump has strong relationships with Chinese clients, including the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), for whom it lobbied when CNOOC made its controversial $18bn (£9.3bn) bid for Unocal in 2005.

In addition to Taipei and Beijing, Akin Gump has international offices in Moscow, Dubai and London.