MALLESONS STEPHEN Jaques has fortified its Chinese presence, opening its new Shanghai office at an official ceremony on 8 May. The firm’s integrated China practice now consists of 3 offices — Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai — comprising 125 lawyers.
Managing Partner Robert Milliner was on hand for the official opening of the office, describing Shanghai as “the most vivid expression of the new China,” due to “not only its diverse and eclectic architecture but the vibrancy of a world-leading commercial centre”.
He said the city was “the centre of financial services in China, China’s largest industrial base, with around-the-clock construction and China’s most important stock exchange.”
Milliner told Lawyers Weekly that client demand is the driving force behind the continued expansion in the region.
“Our clients are doing business in Shanghai and Beijing and need us on the ground in those cities. The opening of our Shanghai office and the growth of our legal team in Beijing are part of our ongoing commitment to our clients,” he said.
The competition is heating up for Aussie firms with Chinese aspirations. Malleson’s announcement coincides with the opening of Allens Arthur Robinson’s new Beijing Trademark Agency. Allen’s Executive Partner, Jim Dunstan, has recently relocated to the region to take a hands-on approach to his role in charge of the firm’s Asian operations.
Mallesons has yet to move any senior Australian partners across, instead focussing on a redistribution of their existing talent base in the region.
“We have five legal staff there (ten including support staff) and are in the process of transferring additional Mandarin-speaking lawyers from Hong Kong and Beijing to the Shanghai office,” Milliner said. “Also at any point in time there are two or three lawyers from our other offices working out of Shanghai.”
Larry Kwok, Managing Partner of the China and Hong Kong operations of Mallesons, explained that some staff will divide their time between multiple regional offices.
“Several partners will divide their time between the firm’s Hong Kong and Shanghai offices, including the three core China partners (including myself), four banking & finance partners, and Nicola Wakefield Evans, our Managing Partner International,” Kwok said.
“The leveraging and sharing of expertise and resources reinforces our unified approach across the China offices and ensures we serve our clients even better,” he said.
There are plans to expand the firm’s operations further, Milliner says. “This will be achieved through internal transfers and lateral recruitment. Our current premises can accommodate up to 40 staff.”
Of course, further expansion into the China legal market is easier said than done. The complex regulatory regime applied to foreign law firms operating in China poses a significant hurdle for firms seeking to grow their presence in the region. Kwok said that the Shanghai office expansion was no exception.
“We had to go through a detailed and lengthy application process with the Ministry of Justice, but getting the licence does not mean that we suddenly have a new business in Shanghai. The firm was previously operating in Shanghai through an associated office acquired with the Kwok and Yih merger in 2004, so we have had a presence in the city for several years now.”
The Shanghai office offers a full service commercial capability, Kwok said, with a particular focus on key industries including financial services, energy, resources and telecommunications.
“Our expertise covers corporate and commercial (including public and private M&A, funds and foreign direct investment), banking and financial services, capital markets, construction and environment (including climate change and clean energy) and dispute resolution (including financial services / regulatory),” he said.