Foreign law firms continue to downsize China business

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After 18 years of operating in the mainland, Perkins Coie has decided to close its Shanghai office leaving only its Beijing branch standing, marking the fifth major foreign law firm to wind down in China, following Proskauer Rose, Latham & Watkins, Winston & Strawn and Akin.

Perkins Coie’s website shows the Shanghai office has eight lawyers, with partners Michael House, Geoffrey Vance, Wang Yingli and Michael Wise based in the US, and partner Louise Lu being the only partner based in Shanghai.

A spokesperson at Perkins Coie told China Business Law Journal: “We are providing significant support to our lawyers and staff in Shanghai during this transition and truly appreciate their commitment to the firm and our clients.”

The firm did not disclose the specific whereabouts of the partners and associates from the Shanghai office.

Perkins Coie opened its first mainland office in Beijing in 2002, followed by the Shanghai office in 2006. Although it has IP firms located in Beijing and Shenzhen, all staff are based in Beijing, as indicated on its website.

The spokesperson reiterated the firm’s continued commitment to the Chinese market: “China has one of the world’s most dynamic technology and business markets for established companies, venture capital, startups, and entrepreneurs and we remain committed as a firm to our China practice and clients.”

In a separate downturn, Kirkland & Ellis, the world’s highest-revenue US-based law firm, recently laid off at least nine Hong Kong capital markets lawyers, Law.com reported. Kirkland did not confirm the news, saying in a statement that the firm’s Asia capital markets team, which now has eight partners and more than 30 fee earners, remains one of the largest in the region.

DLA Piper and Deacons’ downsizing of its Hong Kong office has also sparked speculation as several foreign law firms in a row have scaled back their China operations.

DLA Piper relinquished a floor of its office in Hong Kong’s Exchange Square last autumn, citing changes in office habits following the pandemic as the primary reason. The firm emphasised, “We have not made any layoffs in Hong Kong, nor do we plan to do so”, and the move was driven by the implementation of flexible working policies and the creation of a more collaborative environment by condensing staff into three floors.

Similarly, Deacons has decided to sublet one floor of its Alexandra House in Central, Hong Kong. The firm’s decision to reduce office space stems from the need to optimise space utilisation, promote e-filing and a paperless work environment, cut back library space through e-publications, enhance collaboration among practice groups, and embrace a more flexible work style in the aftermath of the pandemic.

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