McDermott quits Asia as Winston & Strawn takes over its China alliance

Deal sees Winston unveil YuandaWinston after it secures Chicago rival's 50-strong Shanghai allied office
John Huang

John Huang: deal 'will provide immediate value to our clients in mainland China, as they seek opportunities in global markets'

Winston & Strawn has effectively taken over McDermott Will & Emery’s Shanghai office after forging an alliance with its Chicago rival’s long-term China partner.

The move signals McDermott’s withdrawal from Asia, having closed its Seoul office last year, and hands Winston a 47-lawyer team, which is particularly noted for its investigations and anti-corruption practice.

The alliance – to be called YuandaWinston — is led by managing partner John Z.L. Huang, who was a founder member the McDermott alliance firm, which was branded as MWE China Law Offices.

The logic of the arrangement is the same as the thinking that underlined the establishment of the McDermott alliance in 2007: it provides Winston’s clients with on-the-ground Chinese law capability while Chinese companies seeking to do business in Europe and the US have access to Winston’s lawyers.

It amounts to a major addition to Winston’s Asia presence: it has small offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai, having closed its Beijing and Taipei offices in 2017.

Chairman Tom Fitzgerald said the move was “consistent with Winston’s long-term strategy to expand our services to clients in mainland China”.

Huang added: “Winston’s reputation as a trial firm and its core strengths in IP, international trade, merger and acquisition and and litigation will provide immediate value to our clients in mainland China, as they seek opportunities in global markets and react to a changing regulatory environment — particularly as we continue to see the impact of the new US - China Trade Agreement. “ 

Alongside Huang, the alliance’s co-founders are partners Leon Liu and Kevin Qian — the trio having set up MWE China Law Offices — and Michelle Gon, who joined the alliance from Baker McKenzie in 2015.

McDermott is the latest of a number of international firms to scale back in China, and the first in 2020 to withdraw completely.

A McDermott spokesperson said: “We have decided to end our strategic alliance in China in order to provide our clients with a broader sampling of expertise in the region. We will continue to work with Yuan Da when our clients’ interests are best served by their highly ranked team of lawyers.”

In May, Vinson & Elkins signalled it anticipated shutting down its Beijing outpost by the end of the year and was evaluating its plans for its Hong Kong office while Stephenson Harwood said it was closing its Beijing arm after a strategic review of its Asia operations.

Orrick and Osborne Clarke have both announced decisions to close in Hong Kong this year.

However, last December Steptoe announced it was opening a Hong Kong regulatory practice with the hire of a partner and counsel from Clifford Chance.

In January, Allen & Overy become the latest international law firm to forge a formal alliance with a local practice in Shanghai after revealing that it had received approval from the Shanghai Bureau of Justice to establish a joint venture with Shanghai Lang Yue Law Firm in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone.

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