Mayer Brown to split from bulk of greater China arm, according to reports

Nikkei Asia reports that Hong Kong lawyers will revive historic Johnson Stokes & Master brand
Sunset view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong Shutterstock

Mayer Brown is reportedly preparing to split with its China offices, making it the latest US firm to scale back its presence in the country amid a prolonged market downturn and tense geopolitical climate.  

The firm has a significant presence in the country, with around 170 lawyers across offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Almost all of them – 159 – are based in the firm’s Hong Kong office, a figure that makes it the fourth largest international firm in the city by lawyer headcount.

The firm will continue to have a smaller office in Hong Kong, according to, with most of the Hong Kong staff set to join a separate firm led by current Mayer Brown partners. Nikkei Asia also reports today that the spun off entity will operate as Johnson Stokes & Master, the name of the prestigious legacy Hong Kong firm that merged with Mayer Brown in 2008 in a move that handed the US firm seven offices across Asia. 

Mayer Brown did not respond to requests for comment.  

Hong Kong-based partner Hannah Ha currently heads the firm’s Asia practice, which also has offices in Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Singapore.

The firm’s reported decision to scale back its presence in China could be motivated by the tense US-China relationship and worsening business prospects for foreign companies in the country as the Chinese government tightens cyber security and data protection laws on national security grounds.  

In 2021, Mayer Brown also became embroiled in political tensions in Hong Kong that saw the city’s former chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, call for a ‘China-wide boycott’ of the firm after it announced it would no longer assist its longtime client, the University of Hong Kong, in efforts to remove a monument commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre.  

The firm’s Hong Kong office has around 60 partners working across corporate and securities, banking and finance, litigation and dispute resolution and real estate, among other areas.  

Its lawyer headcount has been decreasing in recent years, going from 184 lawyers in September 2022 to 159 currently, according to the Hong Kong Law Society. 

A raft of international law firms have shuttered offices in Greater China in recent years, although a large number of leading firms continue to maintain a significant presence in Hong Kong.

Last summer, Dentons broke off from its China arm, Dacheng Law Offices, citing “an evolving regulatory environment for Chinese law firms in China – including new mandates and requirements relating to data privacy, cybersecurity, capital control and governance”.

The move came shortly after Eversheds Sutherland’s international arm and King & Wood Mallesons’ China business formed an exclusive alliance that saw KWM close its six offices in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. Eversheds portrayed the deal as a practical alternative to having a large presence on the ground in China.

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