Slaughter and May mulls launch of US practice in Hong Kong

Slaughter and May is considering whether to add US law capability to its Hong Kong base by hiring US-qualified lawyers as part of its regular strategy review.

A well placed source inside the firm said it was making enquiries around the possibility of adding US law capability in all the markets it operates in, including Hong Kong.

This comes as Davis Polk & Wardwell, a Slaughter and May best friend, develops local law capabilites in numerous jurisdictions, including London and Hong Kong. Earlier this year the firm launched its London practice with the hire of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer corporate partner Simon Witty (6 January 2012) and tax partner Jonathan Cooklin (13 April 2012).

The Slaughter and May insider said: “The firm is considering all things, including possibly hiring US-qualified lawyers in Hong Kong and elsewhere. But no decision is made yet and we are still in the process of reviewing our strategy.”

Another source added: “The strategic review is triggered by the significant changes in the market. In the past year, a number of US firms have moved on to take on Hong Kong law capabilities. They are looking at what they should be doing to provide better services to our clients in the changed environment.”

Davis Polk & Wardwell is not alone in launching a local law practice in Hong Kong. Several US firms including Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Sullivan & Cromwell have all launched local law practices over the past year, after capturing senior-ranking partners from UK rivals (5 September 2011).

The Slaughter and May source said: “We keep the firm’s strategy under rolling review and the question of US law capacity is just one of many market, legal and international opportunities and challenges which we consider from time to time.”

In light of Freshfields’ recent relaunch in Singapore (12 September 2012), Slaughter and May is also understood to be reviewing its strategy of whether or not to return to the increasingly important South East Asia hub.

“The firm has experienced a high level of business activity in Singapore and the South East Asia region. It’s also becoming an important place for arbitration work. In addition, a growing number of multinational companies and regional financial services institutions are being services out of Singapore. We are open to the possibility of returning to Singapore, but it’s not going to happen in the short-term,” the source said.

“But the firm is committed to remain independent, and we will strive to strengthen our international network model and ensure it’s well understood among our relationship firms and clients around the world.”