Skadden Arps has broken ranks with some of the other top tier US law firms and has decided to establish a local law capability in Hong Kong. The firm has hired Nick Norris from Simmons & Simmons to be a partner in the newly formed Hong Kong corporate and capital markets practice.
Norris will also help with the firm's English law capability in the region. According to Hong Kong Law Society guidelines, firms need to have an equal number of local lawyers as international lawyers if they are to practice local law.
As a result the firm is in the market for an extra seven local law associates. Three of the seven have already signed up. According to Jon Christianson at the Skadden's Hong Kong office, the decision to go into local law was something that the firm had been mulling over for some time.
"Since the Asian financial crisis, deals in this region have become far more complex and global," he says. "We've been looking to develop a local law capability for some time but we needed to bring the right person on board."
With more and more Chinese deals involving some form of English governing law or Hong Kong regulatory law, developing local capabilities seems to be a necessity for US firms, especially those that have stuck steadfastly to only offering US securities practice. However Christianson denies that the move into local law was presaged by the negativity surrounding the US capital markets, in particular the Sarbanes Oxley law.
Rather it is "about providing a user-friendly integrated capability to the firm's clients."
Norris comes to the firm with a full CV of deals, including PCCW's acquisition of Cable & Wireless HKT, as well as PCCW's recent sale of 20% to China Netcom. He has been practicing law in Hong Kong since 1992.
At Skadden he will focus on local securities deals as well as complex cross border M&A transactions. "The timing of my move is due to the approach from Skadden," says Norris. "I'm looking forward to leveraging their platform with my experiences in securities and M&A work."
The other US firms that offer local Hong Kong law include Jones Day, White & Case and Sidley Austin. However some firms that are the more traditional rivals of Skadden have decided against going local and in some case pulled out of the region altogether, such as Cravath Swaine & Moore.
Christianson says that there are no plans to expand locally in any other jurisdictions in Asia. "If we saw a significant increase of large, complex transactions in the region that requires knowledge of other local laws, for instance Singaporean law, we would consider it," he says. "But at the moment we do not see that need."
Skadden now has 45 attorneys in the region.