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23 April 2020

Osborne Clarke to pull out of Hong Kong in face of 'disruption and uncertainty'

UK top 50 firm joins Orrick in closing its office in Asia's leading legal hub

Hong Kong Quarry Bay

Quarry Bay, Hong Kong, home to Osborne Clarke's office, which is closing at the end of June Shutterstock

Osborne Clarke is to close its two-partner Hong Kong office, becoming the second international firm to announce plans to quit the Asia hub in just over a month.

The UK firm joins Orrick in calling time on its efforts to build a presence in the city and  the two firms have a similar tech focus.

In a statement, the firm cited ‘considerable challenges since summer last year, with the disruption and uncertainty triggered by the lengthy political protests compounded by the coronavirus pandemic’.

However — like Orrick — it said it remained committed to the rest of its Asia network: it has offices in Shanghai and Singapore and an association with Indian firm BTG Legal.

The office has a team of eight, including two associates, a trainee and support staff. The firm said they would be ‘fully supported until the closure to seek new roles and to ensure clients' needs are properly managed’.

Osborne Clarke has had a Hong Kong base for five years; initially by way of an association with local firm Koh Vass & Co.  

The office started trading as Osborne Clarke in February last year and is led by founding partner John Koh; the other partner is Alice LI, who was made up last year. Both are corporate specialists in the digital sector.

International CEO Simon Beswick said: "This has been a very difficult decision. Hong Kong was an important part of our Asia strategy as we are working with many interesting clients in the region, to which we remain firmly committed as a key part of our overarching international strategy. 

“The Hong Kong business and legal markets, however, have changed dramatically in the last nine months. While we have made every effort to invest in and support the office and our team leading up to, and during, a very difficult period, we have finally had to take the decision to withdraw.”

The firm pledged to continue growing in Shanghai and Singapore advising in the fields of fintech, payments and AI technologies, communications, luxury and consumer products, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, franchise, automotive and advanced manufacturing. 

It said its Asia and European offices had experienced strong trading throughout 2019 and into the first quarter of  2020 with its client base ‘growing significantly’. 

But it conceded that ‘there will inevitably be some impact of COVID-19 in April and beyond, until normal business conditions return’.

Orrick’s decision to close it its four-partner office came with an admission that its strategy of growing a technology and innovation practice in the city had failed although it pointed to ‘thriving’ practices in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei.

Meanwhile, concern over the future of Hong Kong mounted over the weekend when two leading barristers were arrested over their roles in the pro-democracy protests.

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