Steptoe realises Asia ambitions with Beijing launch

Steptoe & Johnson’s ­formal launch into the Asian legal market, secured last week with the opening of its office in Beijing, has been a long time coming.

Eric Emerson
Eric Emerson

The managing partner of the new Beijing office, ­Steptoe’s first in Asia, is Eric Emerson. The international trade and investment ­specialist relocated from the Washington DC-based firm’s home town to China 13 months ago.

Emerson says that, although the office only ­officially opened its doors last Monday (1 March), Steptoe’s presence in the region stretches back ­considerably further.

“Steptoe’s no stranger to the Asian market and has been operating for years without an office,” Emerson says. “But to be candid, we made an assessment that there was a lot more
we could achieve if we had a physical presence.”

Steptoe’s decision to open in China was ­determined largely by its belief that the local market sees a ­disctinction between ­players without physical presences and those with boots on the ground full-time.

“This place changes almost daily,” adds Emerson. “The only way to continue to be successful is to have a physical presence, which gives you regular contact with government officials and helps you understand the local culture. It’s a lot harder to achieve that if you fly in and fly out.”

The only other major decision, once Steptoe had decided to open in China, was the location of the office.

“Steptoe’s primarily a ­regulatory-based firm with a strong litigation ­component,” says Emerson. “That’s not to denigrate our ­corporate colleagues, but that part of the firm’s ­smaller. We’re known for ­regulatory and the government’s in ­Beijing.”

The US firm has also brought in Susan Munro, an English-qualified solicitor and non-practising ­barrister who recently joined Steptoe from the Shanghai office of O’Melveny & Myers as a partner, to help launch the Beijing office.

Steptoe chairman Roger Warin said the firm’s track record of serving US and ­international clients with Asian business interests provided a “strong ­foundation” on which to build in Beijing.

“This new office will enhance our ability to ­provide services to ­multinational companies operating in China as well as Chinese companies ­expanding beyond the ­People’s Republic of China,” added Warin.