Latham to close Shanghai office in favour of ‘consolidated hub’ in Beijing

In wake of Dentons’ withdrawal from mainland China, US giant says it remains committed to ‘important market’

Shanghai Shutterstock

Latham & Watkins is closing its Shanghai office in a strategy shift that will see it operate its mainland China team out of a “consolidated hub” in Beijing.

The move, triggered by the end of the office’s lease later this year, ends a near 20-year presence in China’s premier financial centre for Latham.

The office’s personnel, who include 10 lawyers led by corporate partner Rowland Cheng, have been given the opportunity to move to its Beijing arm, which currently houses five lawyers, including partner Hui Xu.

“Since we opened our offices in mainland China, our regional model has allowed us to draw on a deep bench of lawyers with very significant experience in the region,” a spokesperson said. “We have a strong track record in China and across Asia, and we are confident that we have the resources, expertise, and market knowledge to serve our clients effectively from a consolidated hub in Beijing.” 

News of the decision comes against the background of Dentons’ announcement earlier this month that it is cutting its ties with its China arm, Dacheng Law Office, citing Chinese cybersecurity and data protection laws.

However, Latham said it remained committed to the Chinese market. “China is an important market for the firm, and an integral part of our practice in Asia and globally,” the spokesperson said. “We are proud of our accomplishments in the region and are excited by the continued opportunities to serve our clients in this vibrant and dynamic economy.” 

The decision echoes the closing by Latham of its Abu Dhabi and Doha offices in 2015, when staff were relocated to its Dubai office, designated by the firm as its regional hub.

While Latham’s Shanghai office was its first on mainland China – its Beijing arm didn’t open until 2013 – maintaining a presence in China’s administrative, policy and regulatory hub makes sense, given the increasingly challenging regulatory environment the firm’s international clients must navigate.

Last month, Eversheds Sutherland’s international arm and King & Wood Mallesons’ (KWM’s) China business unveiled an exclusive cooperation agreement.

In an interview with GLP, Eversheds Sutherland’s international CEO, Lee Ranson, said given the geopolitical environment, it makes sense “to explore ways to get business done without necessarily committing to mergers or having people on the ground”.

As is the case with the vast majority of international firms operating in China, Latham’s largest office is in Hong Kong. It also has Asian offices in Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul. 

Meanwhile, international law firms continue to move into China.

In July, Morgan Lewis & Bockius announced the launch of an office in the booming southern city of Shenzhen while in June HFW said it was strengthening its presence in South China after becoming the first UK-based international law firm to be given permission to open a representative office in the Greater Bay.

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