Linklaters goes on the prowl in China

Global Law Office and Commerce & Finance may not be two names that you’re familiar with in the legal market. That could all be about to change.

Both firms are understood to have had a chat with Linklaters about a potential alliance. The magic circle firm is on the prowl for a new partner in Asia, sources say.

A tie-up would be a bold move for firms on both sides. Chinese collaborations are notoriously tricky to piece together, given the opacity of Chinese firm structures  (for more on this read our feature ChinaLaw: a tale of dynasties) and the reluctance of many to buddy up with foreign firms.

However, they might just be getting easier as the powers that be in China gradually remove obstacles to forging external alliances. One key element, the Pilot Shanghai Free Trade Zone which was launched last year, has permitted formal associations between local and foreign law firms for the first time.

As one source close to elite capital markets firm Commerce & Finance put it, “having foreign devils in the legal market is clearly not the sacred cow that it once was”.

If King & Wood Mallesons and SJ Berwin can pull off a continent-straddling mega-merger, perhaps it’s only natural that we should expect other firms to paw at their own share of the action.

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