London: Law firms from the US, UK and France opened 20 offices in China in 2006, the most in any nation, to profit from a surge in Asian buyouts.
China ranked ahead of Germany and Dubai last year as the value of Asian private equity transactions increased sevenfold compared with a year earlier, according to two studies by business consulting firm Hildebrandt International Inc. There are an estimated 175 foreign law firms operating in China, the firm said.
“The competition is getting bigger and bigger,” Sherry Yin, a partner in the 30-lawyer Beijing office of US firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, said in a telephone interview. “We are doing a lot of capital markets, cross-border mergers and acquisitions and private equity.”
Buyouts alone accounted for 277 transactions worth $121 billion in Asia last year, compared with $16.7 billion in 2005, according to Bloomberg data. Hong Kong and mainland China accounted for deals worth $12.3 billion.
The economic boom coaxed US firms such as Orrick, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, Morgan & Finnegan LLP, and Thelen Reid & Priest LLP to open offices, while New York-based Shearman & Sterling LLP and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP applied for licenses.
London-based Eversheds, Norton Rose and Clyde and Co, and French firms Bignon Lebray & Associes and Gide Loyrette Nouel also expanded into China and Hong Kong in 2006, according to Hildebrandt International.
Germany was the next most popular destination with five new foreign offices, followed by Dubai with four openings, Hildebrandt said in its 6 March study.
“What a lot of people don’t appreciate is Dubai is a hub for international legal services in this part of the world,” said Zubair Mir, a corporate lawyer who opened the Dubai office of London-based Herbert Smith LLP.
Mir, a partner at one of about a dozen US and UK firms in Dubai, has worked on several large deals during seven years in the region, including a $2.9 billion group bid led by Emirates Telecom Corp for Egypt’s third mobile license in July.
While New York-based law firm Milbank opened a Beijing office in 2006, partners prefer to run Middle East deals out of London rather than open a small, token Dubai office, said Phillip Fletcher, Milbank’s London-based European managing partner.
“Quite a few firms have marketing capacity and very few have execution capacity” in Dubai, said Fletcher, whose firm advised the state-run Power & Water Utility Co. for Jubail and Yanbu, known as Marafiq, on its plans to build a $3.5 billion power plant in Saudi Arabia.