This article first appeared on January 23, 2018 in ALB Insights, a weekly, ad-free newsletter that is sent to subscribers.


As the dust settles on all the hiring in Asia last year, one trend is becoming clear – Chinese firms are pulling out all stops when it comes to luring away top legal talent. And this is set to continue in 2018, finds John Kang.

The year 2017 saw 211 lateral partner hires, according to tallies kept by ALB. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius was the biggest gainer of the year, hiring 17 partners – 13 from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and one each from Simmons & Simmons, Ashurst, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, and Chinese firm Fangda Partners, All of these hires, barring one in Singapore, were for its Greater China offices.

The Philadelphia-headquartered firm announced its Hong Kong office in the beginning of 2017, and the year before, the firm opened a new office in Shanghai after landing more than 25 lawyers from the legacy Dentons branch in the Chinese city. Its rapid Greater China expansion saw the firm move up from No. 21 to No. 14 in Asia in ALB’s Top 50 largest law firm ranking 2017.

Conversely, the biggest loser was Orrick, only because of Morgan Lewis’ raid in Hong Kong. However, the office has survived, and hired two partners for its global M&A team from Davis Polk & Wardwell and Jones Day.

Another firm shedding partners was Ropes & Gray, which saw partners leaving key offices globally like London, New York, and its headquarters in Boston. Its Hong Kong office also saw exits, with eight leaving the firm – four to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, two to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and one each to Davis Polk and White & Case.

Despite the partner exits in Hong Kong, David Chapin, Ropes managing partner, told ALB last year that he was unruffled. “It’s part of the natural lifecycle,” he said. “We wish everybody well, but for us, it’s business as usual. Hong Kong remains a central part of our strategy, and our commitment to the region remains as strong as ever.”

Ropes recently named a new Hong Kong office managing partner in Daniel Anderson, the co-head of the firm’s special situations practice, He filled the position left vacant by the departure of Paul Boltz, who was one of the four that left to Gibson Dunn.


With all the moves from Morgan Lewis and Ropes, Hong Kong was the busiest city in Asia for laterals, accounting for 70 of them. While U.S. firms made the biggest headlines, firms in China have been steadily expanding across the border as well.

Ricky Miu

One of the fastest-growing PRC firms was Zhong Lun, which nabbed a banking partner from Mayer Brown JSM, one of the largest international firms in Hong Kong. He brought his team of four senior consultants and associates with him.

“We are seeing a trend of international lawyer moves to these PRC law firms given that there are chances for quicker career progression and faster tracks to partnership, the ability to develop their own client base, as well as diversifying their skill sets,” says Ricky Mui, a director at recruitment firm Robert Walters in Hong Kong.

“Most international law firms are top heavy with senior lawyers but few partnership openings and therefore, most of these senior lawyers look elsewhere for faster tracks to partnership and ability to develop their own client base and portfolio,” Mui explains. “In particular, there have been specific instances where senior associates or counsels of U.S. law firms that have been made immediate partners of PRC law firms.”

One example is Haiwen & Partners hiring Max Hua, an associate from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, as a corporate partner. Cleary keeps a fairly lean team in Hong Kong with just four partners, whereas Haiwen, which opened its Hong Kong office back in March, already have four partners with the appointment of Hua.

“2017 has been a good year for Chinese firms,” notes Mui, “and in 2018, the Chinese firms are going to continue further with their expansion.”


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