Morrison Foerster latest to shutter China office

Top 50 US firm says it can best serve China clients from Hong Kong and Shanghai as it shutters four-partner Beijing office

Morrison Foerster (MoFo) has confirmed it is shuttering its representative office in Beijing, making it the latest US law firm to scale back its presence in China amid a prolonged market downturn and simmering tensions with the US.  

A spokesperson for the 1,000-lawyer firm said the office would close when its lease expires later this year.  

“Morrison Foerster is currently winding down its Beijing office operations,” the spokesperson said. “We made the decision for two key reasons. First, nearly all of our work for clients in China is already being done by lawyers and other professionals based in Shanghai, Hong Kong and other firm offices. Second, our Beijing office lease will terminate later this year. 

“We believe the firm is best positioned to service our clients in China from our Hong Kong and Shanghai offices from both a business operations and a client service perspective.”

MoFo became one of the first law firms to enter China when it set up the Beijing office in 1998. The office currently houses four partners according to the firm’s website – M&A trio Chuan Sun, Paul McKenzie and Rongjing Zhao and capital markets lawyer Ke Huang. All of the partners are also based in either Shanghai or Singapore and will continue to practise at MoFo once the Beijing office has closed. 

The firm has no other lawyers in Beijing but is offering its support staff in the city the chance to relocate where feasible, with final decisions to be made before the autumn. Elsewhere in China the firm currently has 12 lawyers in Shanghai, including Huang, Sun and Zhao, according to its website, and 38 in Hong Kong.  

The move sees MoFo join a raft of US firms that have reduced their China presence in the past year amid growing pressures on foreign businesses.  

Sidley Austin confirmed last month that it was shuttering its office in Shanghai, just a week after Mayer Brown said that it was hiving off the bulk of its 170-lawyer Hong Kong arm. Meantime in March, Weil said it was mulling the closure of its Shanghai office, having shut its Beijing base last year.

Orrick also confirmed in March it had terminated its lease in Shanghai, while last summer Dentons broke off from its China arm, Dacheng Law Offices, citing new Chinese government rules on data privacy and cybersecurity.  

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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