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07 May 2020

Stephenson Harwood pulls out of Beijing after Asia strategy review

CEO Eifion Morris restates commitment to Hong Kong although firm will shift the focus of its practice

Eifion Morris: 'We've seen several local and international law firm tie-ups in Singapore that haven't worked, but I can honestly say ours goes from strength-to-strength.'

Stephenson Harwood has closed its Beijing office as part of a review of its Asia strategy that also sees it shift the focus of its Hong Kong practice.

The moves are the result of a strategic review of the top 30 UK firm’s Asia operations by Eifion Morris, who took over from Sharon White as chief executive on 1 October last year.

The firm's Beijing arm was launched in 2013 and received a significant boost in 2018 when it signed up Troutman Saunders’ 11-lawyer Beijing office, led by US-qualified corporate and capital markets specialist Allen Shyu.

However, Shyu joined Akin Gump in April last year and the firm's last remaining partner will be leaving the firm later in the year.

As part of the review, the firm said it was also refocussing its Hong Kong practice in line with its core litigation, corporate M&A and asset finance practices, alongside private wealth.

Jamie Stranger, who has succeeded Voon Keat Lai as Greater China managing partner, said: “The changes we’re making – to focus on, and strengthen, our core practices – ensures that we continue to align our business with the needs of our clients.

“Having the right people in the right places to provide the expertise our clients expect is a priority for me. While that means that we will have to say good bye to some friends and colleagues, like our small team in Beijing, it will also mean welcoming new lawyers with the experience and expertise to strengthen our core practices and support us as we build our business for the future.”

The Beijing closure leaves the firm with offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and an associated office in Guangzhou, which it set up in 2014 with local firm Wei Tu.

The Greater China practice along with an alliance in Singapore with Virtus Law and an office in Seoul, which the firm describes as a ‘litigation boutique’, account for approximately 25% of its total revenue.

Morris pointed to the promotion of four partners in Hong Kong this year — disputes specialists Alexander Tang, Elizabeth Sloane and Eloise Matsui and corporate lawyer Michelle Chung — as evidence of the firm’s commitment to Greater China. 

“Throughout our long and successful history in Greater China we have focused on supporting international clients investing in China through Hong Kong, as an international financial centre,” he said. “We continue to do that from our offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and through our association with Wei Tu.” 

He also flagged the success of the firm’s Singapore alliance.

“We’ve seen several local and international law firm tie-ups in Singapore that haven’t worked, but I can honestly say ours goes from strength-to-strength.”

The firm’s renewed commitment to Hong Kong follows recent decisions by Orrick and Osborne Clarke to pull out of the City.

In January, Taylor Wessing split with its long-term Singapore ally, RHTLaw.

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