Watson Farley & Williams launches Bangkok office

Watson Farley & Williams is bolstering its Asian capability by opening an office in Bangkok.

The shipping specialist has been in the region for two years following its purchase of Sinclair Roche & Temperley’s Singapore office.

In response to growing client demand, Watson Farley will now open a second office in the region. The Bangkok operation will be its first organically established office in Asia.

Watson Farley chief executive Michael Reid says the firm has been considering the move for some time. He says: “The growing levels of business being done from other offices requires more local support.”

As in Singapore, Thai law forbids non-domestic firms to practise. But Reid says that the office’s main focus will be providing “assistance and service to Thai clients” rather than 100 per cent legal work.

Since Watson Farley gained Sinclair Roche’s Singapore arm, it has boosted the number of lawyers permanently based in the region. The appointments include corporate star Barry Irwin from Australian firm Allens Arthur Robinson earlier this year (The Lawyer, 7 February). A month later, Watson Farley hired French firm Klein-Goddard’s corporate team, headed by Diane Mullenex, which resulted in the collapse of Klein-Goddard’s Singapore operation (The Lawyer, 6 March).

Bangkok will become Watson Farley’s sixth overseas office. As well as Singapore, it has operations in New York, Paris, Moscow and Piraeus and associated offices in Jeddah and Riyadh.

The Singapore office services mainly shipping clients, such as West of England P&I and Britannia, but it also works for a range of major banks.

The firm is yet to decide who head the Bangkok office and what the staff levels will be.

Watson Farley joins a host of other firms currently shoring up their Asian operations as the Far East economy continues to recover.

Other firms already in the region include Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith, Linklaters & Alliance, Norton Rose, US firm White & Case and Australian practice Deacons.

But so far, Watson Farley has decided against establishing a joint venture with a Singapore firm. Singapore managing partner Nigel Thomas says: “On weighing it up, we decided not to apply for a joint venture licence. For the time being, we believe our regional Asian practice provides better service by having the opportunity of using various local lawyers.”