On Wednesday (1 February), Minters announced it had opened an office in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, with energy and resources partner Elisabeth Ellis relocating from Hong Kong to be the firm’s resident Mongolian partner.
By having a resident partner in Ulaanbaatar, Minters has sought to differentiate itself from its Australian rival, Allens, which entered Mongolia without a permanent partner on the ground in November.
“Allens really have opened up a post office box, and ours is actually staffed,” Minters chief executive partner John Weber told Lawyers Weekly.
Weber said the entry of Allens didn’t fast track his firm’s timetable for entering Mongolia, and that lawyers principally from the firm’s Hong Kong office had been flying in and out of the region over the last few years to act for a coterie of energy and resources clients.
Allens formally opened an office in Mongolia shortly after it joined the Business Council of Mongolia last August. The key factor with its decision to open an office in Ulaanbaatar was its ongoing role advising Rio Tinto with the Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia, which is the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold mine. Hong Kong-based partner David Wenger is the firm’s chief Mongolian representative.
Brisbane-based energy and resources partner Erin Feros (pictured) was in Mongolia in December. She told Lawyers Weekly that Allens remained unfazed by the fresh competition in Mongolia, and Minters’ differing strategy.
“Our model has been to respond to client demand, and the whole point of having a resident partner on the ground doesn’t necessarily address the specialist services that our clients are demanding from our partners,” she said. “You become a generalist when you are on the ground … and we are providing the specialist partners that are needed, whether it is for power, infrastructure, mining and resources or corporate work. We will keep an open mind, but the concept of having one partner that has to multi-task, we don’t think that serves what we are doing.”
Allens will be sending around half a dozen lawyers, including partners, to Mongolia next week.
The opening of Minters’ Mongolian office is part of a shift in resources towards Asia and the energy and resources sector.
This week, senior partner Nigel Clark shifted from his former role as head of the firm’s London practice to take up a position in Beijing.
Minters also poached the co-chair of the China Business Group at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Adam Handley, who left Corrs’ Perth office to join Minters with infrastructure partner Richard Guit. Minters also lured former Freehills special counsel Xiaofei (Sophie) Chen to its Sydney office.
In a similar vein to Handley, she was an attractive target for Minters on the back of a client list that consists of both Chinese companies and state-owned enterprises.
“These moves have been driven from a strategy to strengthen the firm’s already strong energy and resources practice, to strengthen the offering of the Perth office and to strengthen the connections that we already have from the greater China market,” said Weber.
American firm Squire Sanders entered the Australian market last October after taking 14 partners from Minters’ Perth practice.