SJ Berwin’s Hong Kong blip

In 2004 Denton Wilde Sapte fled Asia so fast that Kim Kardashian would scarcely have had time to get married, get divorced and cry her heart out to a camera crew.

But since its merger with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, the firm has made rebuilding the practice look painless.

When the firms merged in September 2010, management gave themselves a three-year timeframe to (re)launch in Hong Kong but achieved it in just 100 days, partnering with Brandt Chan & Partners, which had just split from Hammonds.

Now the firm has hired SJ Berwin’s head of Asia Daniel Liew to join its energy, transport and infrastructure team (see story) in Hong Kong.

Of course, Hong Kong is such a liquid market right now that firms have to go out of their way not to hire partners. But what do hungry lawyers want from a firm in Asia? First and foremost, the big bucks that US firms inevitably splash when they set their sights on an area but those that want a long career also know that firms with a good localisation strategy will prosper the longest.

SNR Denton’s Hong Kong launch with six-partner Brandt Chan & Partners provided a sturdy base, as well as a foothold in Beijing. In contrast, SJ Berwin’s Asia tie-up with Kwongs, is staffed by a lone partner and one other assistant. SJ Berwin’s Shanghai office, which was opened in 2009, has no resident partner.

Or maybe it just comes down to who’s got the best feng shui.