Singapore closes in on Hong Kong as key Asia Pacific hub

Posted on July 20, 2017 at 6:07 PM


This year’s Asia Pacific 100 research shows Hong Kong remains the most popular base for international firms’ Asia practice, playing host to the largest number of partners in the Top 50 international firms in the region, but Singapore is closing the gap.

The largest 50 International firms in the region may be present in 67 cities across 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, but only 26 Asian cities host 10 or more partners in international law firms, and only eight have more than 100 partners, meaning that while geographic spread is broad, it is shallow.

Data from The Lawyer’s research shows Hong Kong has the largest number of partners in the Top 50 international law firms. In total there are 708 partners working in these international firms in the city. All but two of the top 50 have offices in Hong Kong, the exceptions being King & Spalding and Seyfarth Shaw.

Tracking for The Lawyer Global 200 2017 was done in March, but since then Seyfarth Shaw has opened in Hong Kong with the hire of DLA Piper’s Asia employment head Julia Gorham. This leaves King & Spalding as the only firm without a Hong Kong base. Mayer Brown is the biggest firm in Hong Kong with 62 partners, followed by Bakers (49) and Clifford Chance (34).

Hong Kong has benefited from historic ties with the British, as well as its reputation as the longest-established Asian hub. Seen as the world’s gateway to China and China’s springboard to fulfil its global ambitions, Hong Kong has seen around $28.2bn dollars raised from 130 IPOs in 2016, as well as US$151.6bn worth of M&A deals.

Most recently, Chinese shipping giant COSCO Shipping announced its $6.3bn acquisition of Hong Kong rival Orient Overseas International (OOIL). Paul Hastings and Slaughter and May scored key roles in the transaction, advising the acquirer and the target company respectively.

Hong Kong is also the most open legal market in Asia, allowing international firms to practice local law after meeting certain requirements.

However, Singapore, which is striving to be the financial and legal services hub for South East Asia has emerged to be the second most popular city among the Top 50 international firms.

A total of 38 firms now have Singapore offices and last year the jurisdiction was the most popular destination for international firms. Eight firms, including some that are not yet in the top 50, gained a footprint in the city-state through alliances and associations last year.

Dentons’ acquisition of local firm Rodyk & Davidson makes it comfortably the top firm in Singapore, with 86 partners. That is more than twice the size of UK firm Withers, which has 37 Singapore partners, ahead of Clifford Chance with 22.

Along with Hong Kong and Singapore, Sydney, with 452, make up the top three cities. All three have a significantly higher bench-strength than Beijing, number four in the rankings with 244 partners.

There are now 22 of the Top 50 international firms with Sydney offices. HSF is the biggest, with 75 partners, ahead of Ashurst (66).

Although collectively international firms have fewer partners in Beijing and Shanghai than Singapore or Sydney, these two Chinese cities have more outfits represented. A total of 43 of the top 50 have Beijing offices, and 38 are present in Shanghai.

Most firms have a small staff in China. While Dentons has 100 Shanghai partners and 129 in Beijing, Bakers is the next biggest firm along with Hogan Lovells in Shanghai, with just 8 partners. In Beijing, Bakers is again the joint-second largest firm along with Hogan Lovells and Clifford Chance, with six partners.

Although Sydney is only the third-largest city for international firms in Asia-Pacific the addition of significant numbers of partners in Melbourne (208 partners), Perth (107) and Brisbane (85) means the international top 50 collectively have 860 partners in Australia, making it the most important jurisdiction.

After Singapore, Japan is the next most significant jurisdiction, with a total of 238 partners. Bakers and Morrison & Foerster are the biggest international players in the country. No other jurisdiction has more than 77 partners from an international top 50 firm.

Some 35 per cent of all the partners at international firms in Asia-Pacific are corporate partners. Collectively, the top 50 can field 1,138 corporate partners across the region. There are 601 litigation partners and 510 banking and finance partners.

Real estate, intellectual property and employment are the other practice areas with more than 100 partners.


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