Ashurst clinches licence to open Beijing base for latest Asia step

Ashurst has received regulatory approval for its Beijing representative office, a year after the hire of partner Patrick Phua from King & Wood Mallesons.

Geoffrey Green
Geoffrey Green

The firm first announced its plan to open an office in Beijing in 2011, when it agreed to merge with Australia’s Blake Dawson. Through the merger, the UK firm gained its first mainland China presence thanks to Blakes’ existing Shanghai office.

It is understood the Beijing office is registered under Ashurst Australia (formerly Blake Dawson), as it is easier and faster for a foreign firm that already has an office in China to apply for a second office.

As part of the expansion process, the firm appointed banking and finance partner Phua from the Beijing office of legacy Mallesons Stephens Jacques last March, following the Australian firm’s combination with Chinese firm King & Wood (1 March 2012). Phua will serve as the head of the Beijing office, which currently has one partner and eight associates, including a number of lawyers who joined the firm with Phua last year.

Geoffrey Green, Ashurst’s Asia managing partner, said: “We will grow the Beijing office. Initially it focuses on finance and derivatives practices, which fit well with the whole firm’s strength. We will look to add energy and resources and project finance capability to the team as these are the areas the firm is good at in China.

“However, I don’t expect the office to be a large base. The market in China is a very competitive one and it’s important to have a focused offering. It’s a very tough market. Firms need to ask themselves why they are here and what kind of work they want to do.”

Ashurst’s Greater China practice now consists of offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong with a total of 14 partners and almost 70 lawyers. Ashurst could vote on full integration with its Australian counterpart as early as this year (11 March 2013).

UK rival Berwin Leighton Paisner also recently received approval for its Beijing office (20 February 2013).