Addleshaws to exit Hong Kong as DWF announces tie-up with local boutique

Just as one top 30 UK firm shifts main Asia focus to Singapore, its listed rival enters market

Top 30 UK law firm Addleshaw Goddard has today confirmed it will shutter its Hong Kong office later this year, the same day listed UK rival DWF has announced an exclusive agreement with a law firm in the city. 

Addleshaw’s 36-strong Hong Kong office, which opened back in 2012, is set to close in September when its lease expires. 

The firm’s managing partner, John Joyce, said: “No firm likes to withdraw from jurisdictions which it has previously identified as important to it but, having carefully considered our position in Hong Kong and the unique set of challenges we face there, we do not feel that renewing our lease, whilst continuing to hope for a dramatic change in outlook, is something we can economically justify.”

A number of the office’s partners and lawyers, including trainees, will join leading Hong Kong independent Howse Williams. The firm also said that some may relocate to Singapore, Dubai or London 'and those various options are currently being worked through’. 

Joyce added: “A clear Asia strategy remains a key requirement for our business and we will revert to a ‘best friend’ approach going forward in order to serve client needs in Hong Kong. We continue in Singapore and will look to build out that office as our key presence for Asia.”

The move makes Addleshaws one of a small number of international firms to have quit Hong Kong over the past three years against the background of a dramatic shift in the political climate following Beijing's decision to suppress the Special Administrative Region's pro democracy movement armed with a controversial new national security law.

Baker Botts, Orrick and UK outfit Osborne Clarke are among those firms to have shut down their operations, Osborne Clarke citing disruption and uncertainty triggered by political protests and the Covid-19 pandemic as the cause of its June 2020 departure.

However, the vast majority of international firms remain committed to the jurisdiction which today welcomes a new entrant, Addleshaw Goddard's top 30 UK rival DWF.

The listed firm has formed an exclusive agreement with Hong Kong boutique Hauzen, which specialises in financial services regulation, contentious insurance and complex commercial matters and arbitration.

DWF said the move, which follows associations with local firms in Spain and Portugal in March and South Africa and Singapore last year, would bolster the firm’s global offering.  

Sir Nigel Knowles, DWF’s CEO, said: “We are continuing to build out our international footprint, with the latest agreement signed with Hauzen in Hong Kong. This is a key global financial centre and we see a clear opportunity to increase activity focused on areas where we have sector strength, but without overcommitting operationally.”

He added that the tie-up would strengthen the firm’s offering to its global clients with interests in China and Hong Kong, whilst also improving its ability to directly support Chinese clients. 

Hauzen has five partners and one of-counsel, including founder and managing partner Basil Hwang, who was formerly founder and managing partner of Dechert's Hong Kong office.

Hwang said the affiliation with DWF would enable Hauzen to strengthen its existing client relationships and develop new ones.

“It is a reflection of how far we've come since we founded this firm just five years ago and it is a big step forward for us as we seek to grow and globalise our offering," he added.  

The firm has an affiliated business, Hauzen Services, which provides corporate governance services to listed companies and which DWF said would complement its own Connected Services offering.

DWF and Hauzen have also jointly appointed contentious insurance and marine disputes specialist Anthony Woo as a partner. Woo joined Hauzen on 1 May from Clyde & Co.  

Following the agreement with Hauzen, DWF has a presence in 19 countries around the world.

Elsewhere, the listed firm today said in a trading update that it expected to report net revenue of around £350m for its financial year ended 30 April 2022, reflecting like-for-like growth of more than 6%. The firm also expects adjusted profit before tax of not less than £41m, 20% higher than the previous year.

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