McDermott lures Jones Day’s former Shanghai chief

Long-serving Jones Day Shanghai partner Winston Zhao has left the firm for McDermott Will & Emery, citing the latter’s local ally MWE China as a major draw.

Zhao, a veteran corporate and M&A lawyer in China with over 20 years of experience, was Jones Day’s Shanghai parter-in-charge from 1999 to 2010. He has joined McDermott as a partner, but will be based in Shanghai as a senior foreign counsel of MWE China, McDermott’s strategic alliance firm in China.

In 2007, McDermott established a presence in Shanghai after agreeing a strategic alliance to form MWE China Law Offices, a Shanghai-based Chinese law firm (30 January 2007). MWE China was founded by John Huang and Kevin Qian, who left Shanghai’s AllBright Law Offices to link up with McDermott. Under PRC regulations, foreign law firms are not allowed to hold shares or share profits in Chinese law firms – even in the case of a strategic alliance.

Although direct profit-sharing is not allowed, Zhao noted that foreign law firms are facing increasing challenges in China and McDermott together with its strategic alliance appears to be a better platform for his practice going forward.

“International law firms’ representative offices in China are subject to various regulatory restrictions. They’re increasingly losing their competitiveness in the traditional foreign direct investment areas. They also face disadvantages in terms of cost base, scope of practice and talent retention. They still have a role to play in the market, but it’s a narrower one compared to what it used to be,” said Zhao.

“McDermott’s strategic alliance with MWE China enables the firm to represent clients in both China and internationally with full strength. It’s a unique model and proves to be successful. But whether it’s easy to replicate, there’s still a question mark,” added Zhao.

At McDermott, Zhao will focus on advising Chinese companies looking to make investments outside of China, and will also serve as a member of the firm’s China management committee.

Zhao joined Jones Day in 1999. In 2003 he became the firm’s Shanghai partner-in-charge and remained in this post until 2010, when litigation partner Peter Wang was elected to the role.

In addition to Zhao, a number of other partners have exited Jones Day’s greater China offices in the past year, including Alex Zhang in Shanghai (10 October 2011),Ye Xiaowei in Beijing (1 December 2011), and a three-partner capital markets team, which joined Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft in Hong Kong in May 2012.