Asia Pac 150: Davis Polk leads US firms’ charge in Hong Kong

Davis Polk & Wardwell is among one of the fastest growing international firms in Asia, growing lawyer headcount by nearly 29 per cent between 2012 and 2013, according to The Lawyer Asia Pacific 150 2014.

The US firm has seen the most prolific growth in Hong Kong, pushing up headcount by 65 per cent over the same period. 

Davis Polk grew headcount from 87 lawyers in 2012 to 112 lawyers, including 14 partners, across its Beijing, Hong Kong and Tokyo bases at the end of 2013.

The growth means the firm has overtaken Latham & Watkins, O’Melveny & Myers and Pinsent Masons to become the 20th largest firm in the region.

Since launching a local practice in Hong Kong in 2010 the firm has focused on adding lawyers to the office  (16 August 2010). According to the Law Society of Hong Kong, Davis Polk had 29 Hong Kong qualified lawyers at the end of 2012, but the number surged by 65 per cent to 48 in April 2014.

The firm is not only targeting capital markets work in the city but also regulatory and litigation. In 2013, it established the Hong Kong litigation practice with the hire of Clifford Chance’s Asian litigation head Martin Rogers and partner James Wadham Clifford Chance (13 December 2012).

 “We decided three to four years ago that to maintain our level of success, capitalise on the opportunities out here and remain relevant, we should add Hong Kong law capability,” said Davis Polk Hong Kong managing partner William Barron.

Adding a Hong Kong litigation and enforcement capability last year, he said, “allows us to capitalise on global regulatory trends.”

However, he insisted that his firm’s Asia Pacific expansion should not exaggerated. “To compare Davis Polk to UK and certain other firms in the region would not be accurate – most of those firms have many more offices around the region than we do,” he said. Davis Polk covers all “non-Japan” Asia from just two outposts, in Hong Kong and Beijing.

Apart from Davis Polk, several other US firms have also been building up their Hong Kong law capability. Kirkland and Ellis added 10 more Hong Kong lawyers in the sixteen months ending April 2014 and Sullivan & Cromwell added six during the same period.

US Hong Kong

For more on the changing nature of the Asia Pacific legal market read our feature: Asia Pacific 150 2014: Year of the indie