Trump endorses criminal justice reform legislation

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for the FIRST STEP Act, which aims at reforming the prison system to better rehabilitate individuals upon re-entering society.

The Act “uses a targeted approach toward a specific population of Federal prisoners who will eventually be released,” and aims to “promote prisoner participation in vocational training, educational coursework, or faith-based programs, and in turn help them successfully reenter society.” The program would focus on job skills, drug treatment, and education.

FIRST STEP has been deemed “bipartisan” and showed overwhelming support in Congress with a 360–59 in May. Trump delivered remarks about the effect this bipartisan effort will have:

[W]e’re all better off when former inmates can receive and reenter society as law-abiding, productive citizens. And thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they’ve ever had before. … Our pledge to hire American includes those leaving prison and looking for a very fresh start—new job, new life.

Trump also remarked on the wide-rage of support from law enforcement at every level, showing high expectations for the Act’s influence on inmate re-entry.

Linklaters and Slaughters fees near $110m for Shire mega-deal

Linklaters, Slaughter and May and Davis Polk & Wardwell are among the legal advisers set to rake in more than $110m in fees after working on the bidding war for Irish drug maker Shire. Shire was eventually sold to Japanese company Takeda, although two of its approaches were rebuffed by shareholders before the eventual proposal.

Pillsbury Adds China-Focused Litigation Partner in New York

As bilateral hostilities between the world’s two largest economies persists, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has recruited a litigation partner in New York who focuses on China-related disputes.

Geoffrey Sant joins from Dorsey & Whitney, where he was a New York partner in the firm’s trial department. Sant mostly helps Chinese companies and executives defend securities class actions and other commercial and employment claims before U.S. courts.

Sant will be a partner in Pillsbury’s New York office and spend “a substantial amount of time in Asia.” Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he will primarily work out of the firm’s Beijing office and also spend time in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei.

He joined Dorsey & Whitney in 2012 after spending four years with Morrison & Foerster; he became a partner at Dorsey in 2016.

The hire comes at a time when the United States and China are in an escalating battle over trade issues. Multiple rounds of high-level negotiations have taken place, but little progress has been made. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is tightening scrutiny of Chinese companies and individuals on the cybersecurity and intellectual property fronts.

Last week, the Department of Justice indicted a group of Chinese government officials for alleged trade secret theft. Also last week, the Department of Commerce banned all exports to Chinese semiconductor maker Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Co. Ltd. amid intellectual property theft allegations.

Deborah Baum, Pillsbury’s Washington, D.C.-based litigation practice leader, said Sant’s ability to collaborate with Chinese clients and understand complex Chinese laws and documents will help serve the firm’s clients well.

In August, Pillsbury opened an intellectual property-focused Taipei office with trial lawyer Christopher Kao and patent specialist David Tsai. In 2016, it launched a Hong Kong office, led by former Clyde & Co global aviation finance head Paul Jebely, primarily focusing on commercial aircraft and private jets financing work. Sant said the financial services and aviation sectors—focuses for Pillsbury in Asia—are also rapidly expanding aspects of his practice.

The firm’s Beijing office, led by former Paul Hastings partner David Livdahl, was opened in 2014. The Shanghai office, led by IP litigation partner Jack Ko, was launched in 2006.

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APT Legal to open new offices across India

New Delhi-based APT Legal, will be opening new offices in Mumbai, Jaipur, Allahabad (Prayagraj) and Patna. Having started out as Chamber Practice, APT Legal has been representing clients both in the private sector and public sector, pan-India.

The firm handles litigations before the Supreme Court, high courts and appellate tribunals. The firm’s partners focus on practices including mining and metal, arbitration, civil, corporate, and commercial laws. It also advises on insolvency and bankruptcy, white collar crime, competition, energy, environment and forest laws and telecom regulations, among others.

APT Legal’s Delhi office has two partners supported by 10 Associates while the Mumbai, Jaipur, Allahabad and Patna offices will be led each by a partner along with three associates.

Telecoms

Pinsents and HSF’s US links pay off in $7.5bn telecoms deal

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Pinsent Masons have teamed up with firms in the US on a complex $7.5bn deal between telecoms companies CommScope and Arris.

The transaction will see network equipment provider CommScope buy software maker Arris, a fellow US-headquartered that is listed on the NASDAQ.

Pinsents London partners Rob Hutchings and Roberta Markovina advised CommScope on UK M&A matters, while partner Eloise Walker supported on tax.

The firm worked alongside Alston & Bird partners Mark Kelly and William Snyder, who led on US elements of the transaction. Latham & Watkins and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom also played key roles for CommScope and are understood to have advised on financing issues.

The target Arris was represented by a trio of partners from HSF’s corporate group in London; Gavin Davies, Alex Kay and Caroline Rae. The firm also led on tax advice for the company, with global head Isaac Zailer on call.

HSF was brought in by Troutman Sanders to work on UK aspects of the transaction, while the US firm led on matters overseas with Atlanta-based Brink Dickerson.

Hogan Lovells is understood to have advised on antitrust issues for Arris.

In connection with the acquisition, the Carlyle Group has also re-established an ownership position in CommScope through a $1bn minority equity investment. Cravath Swaine & Moore M&A partners Keith Hallam and Jenny Hochenberg advised CommScope on this specific part of the deal, while Simpson Thacher & Bartlett won the role for Carlyle.

CommScope’s CEO Eddie Edwards said: “CommScope and Arris will bring together a unique set of complementary assets and capabilities that enable end-to-end wired and wireless communications infrastructure solutions that neither company could otherwise achieve on its own. We will access new and growing markets, and have greater technology, solutions and employee talent that will provide additional value and benefit to our customers and partners.”

Macau firm plots regional Greater Bay Area coverage

MdME Lawyers has made history as the first Macau law firm established in Hong Kong following approval from Hong Kong’s Law Society to register as a foreign firm and practice Macau law in Hong Kong.

MdME, which made the announcement on the same day the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge was opened to the public, bills itself as bridging the gap between the two legal markets by focusing on opportunities that span both markets.

Founded in 2006, with over 25 fee-earners, the full-service firm has represented large corporations operating in Macau across sectors such as finance, gaming, real estate, energy, construction, infrastructure, pharma and telecom.

Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, founding and Managing Partner of MdME said the new Hong Kong office would help the firm achieve its goal to become “a truly regional firm in the Greater Bay Area”.

Japan grants cryptocurrency industry self-regulatory status

Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) on Wednesday gave the cryptocurrency industry self-regulatory status, permitting the Japan Virtual Currency Exchange Association to police and sanction exchanges for any violations.

The government has been reviewing its approach toward an industry that has been hit twice by large-scale thefts.

The FSA approval gives the industry association rights to set rules to safeguard customer assets, prevent money laundering, and give operational guidelines.

The association will also have to police compliance. “It’s a very fast moving industry. It’s better for experts to make rules in a timely manner than bureaucrats do,” a senior FSA official said in a briefing, declining to be named.

Similar officially sanctioned bodies exist in industries such as securities brokerages. “We will make further efforts to build an industry that is trusted by customers,” the cryptocurrency industry association said in a statement following the FSA approval. Japan last year became the first country to regulate cryptocurrency exchanges, as it encourages technological innovation while ensuring consumer protection.

Exchanges have to register with FSA. Both the regulator and the industry were criticized after about $60 million was stolen from cryptocurrency firm Tech Bureau Corp in September. Before the incident, the company was slapped with two business improvement orders by FSA following the theft of $530 million in digital coins at Tokyo-based cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc in January. Some FSA officials said the crypto industry now needs heavier regulatory approach, while not wanting to stifle its growth.

Yuri Suzuki, senior partner at law firm Atsumi & Sakai, said the self-regulatory body’s rules are stricter than the current law and she expects them to help the industry to regain public trust.

At the same time, “the self-regulatory body’s workload is likely to be heavy and there is an issue of whether it can secure enough staff with expertise in crypto exchange business,” said Suzuki, who closely follows crypto industry regulation at home and overseas.

FSA on Wednesday also published a set of guidelines for those applying to run crypto exchange. The agency said there are about 160 entities expressed interest.

There are 16 approved crypto exchanges. FSA has not granted any new approval since December last year. “We are looking into more details than before. In that sense, the approval process has become more strict,” the FSA official said.

HMRC finds a new legal head from Defra

HM Revenue and Customs has appointed a new general counsel, taking on the legal director of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Alan Evans will take on the top legal role at HMRC on 1 January 2019, advising on all aspects of tax law and leading its litigation team. He will also be a member of the tax agency’s executive committee.

Evans has built up a legal career spanning 30 years, including his former role as legal director at Defra, as well as stints as legal adviser to the Cabinet Officer and the European Commission.

Evans’ appointment was formally ratified by the Prime Minister Theresa May, following an “extensive” internal and external search.

Evans succeeds Gill Aitken, who stepped down in June to become registrar at the University of Oxford. Mid-June, David Bunting, a former legal director at HMRC and part of the UK Government-wide Border Delivery Group. filled the role on an interim basis while HMRC carried out an open recruitment process for a permanent replacement.

Aitken joined HMRC in 2014 to lead the Solicitor’s Office and legal services, advising HMRC and HM Treasury on all aspects of tax law and leading a large litigation practice safeguarding tax revenues.

HMRC’s chief executive Jon Thompson said he was “delighted” to welcome Evans “at a critical time for the department”. It is currently carrying out wide-ranging preparations for Brexit, including work to ensure it is ready handle the extra customs demands that will be needed in the event of a no-deal departure from the EU.

Latham grabs mandate for Wagamama in £600m sale

Slaughter and May, Latham & Watkins and Linklaters have been drafted in to advise on The Restaurant Group’s planned acquisition of pan-Asian food chain Wagamama’s.

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Int’l law firms clash with HK Law Society

Partners from 15 international law firms in Hong Kong have drafted a letter expressing their concerns over proposed rules from the Law Society that would curtail employment opportunities for foreign lawyers in Hong Kong, and tighten up so-called “loopholes” in the city’s legal market.

The South China Morning Post first broke the story, revealing that the Law Society had sent a letter to consulting firms in early October proposing fresh restrictions on lawyers who qualified outside Hong Kong. Under the new guidelines, they would only be able to offer legal advice on cases that involved the jurisdictions they were registered in. Hong Kong law firms would also have to employ two local lawyers for one foreign lawyer, up from a ratio of one to one.

Hong Kong-based partners from international law firms, including Linklaters, Davis Polk & Wardwell, Latham & Watkins, Paul Hastings, Kirkland & Ellis, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, were among those who signed the joint letter to Melissa Kaye Pang, president of the Law Society, voicing their concerns about the changes. While foreign lawyers are currently prohibited from directly handling Hong Kong cases, law firms based in the special administrative region reportedly sidestep this by employing such lawyers in cases that include foreign elements, and having a local lawyer sign the legal recommendation. This may allow them to avoid being named a “practicing” lawyer, as they are technically only serving in an advisory role.

One of the issues raised following the announcement by the Law Society has been the question of what defines foreign or local lawyers, as one source told SCMP that many “foreign” lawyers in Hong Kong are citizens who have studied law overseas.  Since the story broke, the Law Society has extended the consultation period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.