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HSF launches new hub in Melbourne with 50-lawyer team

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has launched its third major alternative legal services hub in Melbourne.

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The new centre will be staffed by around 50 fee-earners and a further 15 support staff initially. The launch comes less than a month after HSF also extended its legal services business to China.

The 13-lawyer Shanghai alternative legal services centre is understood to be the first of its kind run by an international firm in the country.

Both the Melbourne and Shanghai centres will be run centrally from HSF’s 240-lawyer global alternative legal services base in Belfast, which launched last year.

HSF’s Melbourne play follows a significant team exit from the firm’s Asia and Australia offices. A group of 10 project finance partners left HSF to launch White & Case offices in Melbourne and Sydney earlier this month.

The departing partners are: HSF Asia head of finance Brendan Quinn, head of projects Andrew Clark, finance partners Alan Rosengarten, Josh Sgro, Tim Power, Jared Muller and Joanne Draper in Melbourne, Joel Rennie in Sydney, Fergus Smith in Hong Kong and Matthew Osborne in Singapore.

HSF launched its global alternative legal services centre from its Belfast office in June 2015 and has grown the team to have 350 legal and technology staff in Belfast, Brisbane, London, Perth, Sydney, Shanghai and now Melbourne.

HSF launched a legal services pop-up in Perth earlier this year to “test the potential for this type of business in Australia,” said global head of alternative legal services delivery, Libby Jackson. “The team really flew out of the trap. We built it out of a successful pitch on a large piece of work and we felt the business case for an on-shore Australian hub had been made.”

The permanent centre will be located in Melbourne due to its comparatively cheaper rents. Meanwhile the Perth centre will continue to operate from HSF’s office in the city.

“We tested all the same due diligence drivers that we did for Belfast,” Jackson continued. “Perth enabled us to build a full team of people who understand our business in Australia and who can deliver services to our clients, which are mostly HSF partners.”

Jackson added the firm’s global legal services business was built on the principle that it can offer due diligence, document review and other services for “half the cost” of running the same work from one of the firm’s core offices.

Last year, the team processed 63 million documents, reviewed more than three million documents and 5,000 property leases, and managed the administration of more than 500 funds.

It is also focusing on technology solutions to create a “value proposition for the client”. Jackson said the legal services hubs are “fully integrated” into the HSF network and are blending “human work with predictive coding and other software that relates particularly to transactional and corporate work.

“That’s where the really exciting tech stuff is happening,” she added.

HSF’s UK rivals Allen & Overy and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer also offer low-cost legal services from Belfast and Manchester respectively, although HSF is the first to extend such services to Asia Pacific.

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Ashurst Abu Dhabi head exits for US firm Curtis Mallet-Prevost

Ashurst Abu Dhabi managing partner Alastair Holland has exited the firm for US firm Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle

Holland was made up to partner at Ashurst in 2011 and was promoted to the role of Abu Dhabi managing partner just months later after energy partner David Wadham moved back to London.

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He first joined Ashurst as an associate in 1999, subsequently working in London, Frankfurt and Dubai.

Corporate lawyer Holland will become a partner in Curtis Mallet-Prevost’s Dubai office, working on M&A and joint venture transactions in both the Middle East and North Africa.

Ashurst has two offices in the Middle East, as well as an associated office in Jeddah.

One partner is based permanently in Abu Dhabi, while Middle East head Joss Dare and dispute resolution head Dyfan Owen split their time between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Holland’s departure comes as Ashurst has witnessed a wave of departures in both London and Asia.

Finance partners Michael Smith, Diala Minott and Cameron Saylor are the latest to leave the firm, joining Paul Hastings in London earlier this month.

Other recent departures include: restructuring partner Simon Baskerville and financial regulatory partners Rob Moulton and Nicola Higgs for Latham & Watkins; litigation partner Mark Clarke and corporate partner Jonathan Parry for White & Case and financial regulatory partner James Perry for Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

In Asia, Ashurst restructuring partner Bertie Mehigan is leaving the firm’s Hong Kong office with a team of three lawyers to join independent firm Howse Williams Bowers (HWB), while finance partner Doo-Soon Choi joined Mayer Brown’s Hong Kong office.

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Norton Rose Fulbright acquires Vancouver firm Bull Housser

Norton Rose Fulbright has acquired Canadian firm Bull Housser, adding 54 partners and a base in Vancouver to its global network.

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Bull Housser lawyers will be brought under the Norton Rose Fulbright name, with Bull Housser managing partner Janet Grove remaining managing partner of the Vancouver office.

She will report to Norton Rose Fulbright Canadian managing partner Charles Hurdon, based in Ottawa.

The move follows Norton Rose Fulbright’s launch in Northern California in June, after it hired seven lawyers from Sidley Austin’s San Francisco office. The team moved over as part of a group hire across the US, which saw Norton Rose Fulbright poach Sidley’s entire public finance team.

Norton Rose Fulbright chief executive Peter Martyr said the Bull Housser combination “reinforces our growing Pacific Rim practice”. Bull Housser specialises in projects and transactions work in the region.

Bull Housser is comprised of 54 partners, 32 associates and four counsel. It joins a firm that saw global revenue rise 3.4 per cent to £1.16bn for the 2015/16 financial year in its third financial year since the merger of legacy firms Norton Rose and Fulbright & Jaworski.

As well as turning the spotlight back on the US this year, Norton Rose Fulbright has also been pushing for greater efficiency across the business. The firm announced in May it would axe 170 global business services roles in favour of opening a back office function in Manila later this year

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K&L Gates boss Kalis to step down after 20 years

K&L Gates chairman and managing partner Peter Kalis will step down after two decades at the firm when his term concludes next February.

Kalis, who has served continuously as the firm’s leader since 1997, told the firm’s management committee in the summer that he would not stand for a sixth term in 2017.

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K&L Gates has grown from 400 lawyers in six offices in the US to 2,000 lawyers in 46 offices on five continents. It has also transformed from a $140m revenue firm to posting six consecutive years of revenue exceeding $1bn.

The firm announced that it has kickstarted the process to replace Kalis as chair.

Kalis said in a statement: “The firm is well-positioned for a smooth transition and to build on these values and on its current foundation, and to continue to serve clients seamlessly and efficiently into the future.”.

A steady stream of mergers over the past decade has resulted in the firm operating from 45 offices around the world, just over half of which are spread across the US. Pittsburgh remains K&L Gates’ largest office, with more than a third of its 93 partners in the litigation practice. Seattle has 80 partners and Washington DC has 79. Earlier this year, the firm launched in Munich with a team from King & Wood Mallesons.

London is the firm’s biggest non-US base, with 53 partners in the UK.

A 2013 merger with Australian firm Middletons gifted K&L Gates a solid book of Asia-Pacific business for the first time. It now has 75 partners across its four Australian offices.

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Cadwalader hires Bird & Bird disputes head

Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft has hired Bird & Bird co-disputes head Steven Baker in London.

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Baker’s appointment comes as the US firm is looking to boost its litigation and international arbitration offering.

Baker was previously head of commercial disputes at Olswang until 2011. He spent around 10 years at the firm.

His move to Cadwalader was first rumoured earlier this year when Baker stepped off the Property Alliance Group case against RBS, with fellow partner Michael Brown taking over the mandate.

Bird & Bird picked up the case from Cooke Young & Keidan, which came off the high-profile Libor case at the beginning of the year.

He is the second senior exit from Bird & Bird this year following the departure of transformational projects head Dominic Cook in June. Cook left after losing out on the firm’s management elections to David Kerr.

Cadwalader has been boosting headcount in the City in recent months, also taking King & Wood Mallesons Europe finance head Jeremy Cross. The firm’s London office now has 56 lawyers.

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Hogan Lovells’ Asia Pacific looks to expand in Shanghai

Hogan Lovells, formed via a merger six years ago, is looking at forming an association with a Chinese firm in Shanghai’s free-trade zone (FTZ).

“China is a key market for us,” said Patrick Sherrington, regional managing partner for the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions at the firm. “We have certainly been considering the possibility of a permitted association in the Shanghai FTZ. That is something under active consideration at the moment.”

The Shanghai FTZ, the first Hong Kong-like trade area in mainland China, was launched in 2013 with the aim of testing liberalization of the Chinese market in key areas such as financial, legal and telecommunications. If Hogan Lovells in successful, it would be the second firm to obtain a license from Chinese regulators to establish a joint operation to practice local law in the area.

Baker & McKenzie was the firm global firm to strike such a deal, entering into an association with FenXun Partners in April 2015. The agreement is not exclusive and the two firms remain structurally separate. International firms have long faced restrictions in China. Foreign lawyers are prohibited from practice Chinese law and appearing in the country’s local courts, and the same applies to any Chinese lawyer hires at international firms.

Hogan Lovells first entered China more than 20 years ago, launching an office first in Beijing in the early 1990s and nearly a decade later opening in Shanghai. Overall, the firm has 55 partners in Asia and 61 in the Asia Pacific region. (Other global firms that have expressed an interest in working with a Chinese firm in the Shanghai FTZ include Dechert, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters and Simmons & Simmons.) 

 

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Sri Lanka Seeks to Grow Economy – With Help From Baker & McKenzie

Baker & McKenzie’s Hong Kong office was hired by the government of Sri Lanka to advise officials on financial laws in other countries and jurisdictions, the firm confirmed Monday.

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Sri Lanka’s Business Times reported on Aug. 21 that the global legal giant will be paid $2.3 million for 12 weeks of work. Some of that work will involve drafting and revising the country’s IP, real estate, restructuring and tax laws, according to the publication.

“Baker & McKenzie is proud to have been selected by the Sri Lankan government to advise on international aspects of developing the legal infrastructure necessary to build a regional financial hub in Colombo,” the country’s capital, according to a statement from a firm spokesman.

The Sri Lankan government has turned to Baker & McKenzie to advise on financial models that have worked for other countries, said the firm’s statement, which noted that local counsel have also been hired. The Sri Lankan government responded to news reports last week with a statement of its own confirming the hire of Baker & McKenzie, but denying other details mentioned by the Business Times, including the implication that the firm would open an office in Colombo. (The publication’s editor responded saying that they never said that the firm would “practice” in Sri Lanka.)

Baker & McKenzie’s statement confirmed that it had not opened an office in Sri Lanka, but said that its current engagement for the country would be led by its Hong Kong office, with help from lawyers in Dubai and elsewhere.

The government’s statement said that Baker & Mc­Kenzie would be advising the country on “the legal implications of the different financial models,” including those in Dubai, Hong Kong, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.K.’s Channel Islands. The government added that the firm is also advising it on Indonesian tax laws.

Baker & McKenzie’s work for the Sri Lankan government is not the firm’s only project in the island nation, which sits southeast of India in the Indian Ocean. In April, lawyers in the firm’s Singapore and London offices advised Switzerland’s LafargeHolcim Ltd.—a building materials giant formed via a 2015 megamerger—on the $400 million divestment of its interests in Holcim Lanka, a Sri Lankan cement plant, to Thailand’s second-largest cement producer.

Sri Lanka’s current president, Maithripala Sirisena, has been working since his election last year to ensure that his country remains peaceful after a brutal civil war that ended in 2009 and left an estimated 100,000 dead.

A cabinet committee on economic management headed by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe was established to make recommendations on financial policy that will encourage investment in the country. The Business Times reported that it was this committee that approved the hire of Baker & McKenzie.

“The government’s policy is to make Sri Lanka the hub of the Indian Ocean,” said the government statement, published by the Business Times. “The aim of these efforts is to expand the market for the Sri Lankan products to create 1 million jobs for the Sri Lankans, expand the middle class and revive the rural economy.”

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Addleshaw-Hunton merger talks on ice after Brexit vote

Merger talks between U.S. firm Hunton & Williams and U.K. firm Addleshaw Goddard have stalled following the U.K.’s June vote to leave the European Union.

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Partners at the firms have said that the discussions, which were first reported in May of this year but are understood to have begun at the end of 2015, have slowed down in the wake of the EU referendum in order to assess the impact of Brexit on the U.K.

“The U.S. deal is still ongoing but it has slowed because the dust hasn’t settled on Brexit yet,” an Addleshaw partner said.

The forthcoming U.S. presidential election is also understood to have played a part in the delay.

Nothing has yet been formally put to the partnership at Addleshaw but prior to the Brexit vote, talks between the two firms had progressed to a stage where there was a “sufficient degree of conformity that everyone was comfortable with the basics and the feel culturally,” according to one Addleshaw partner.

A deal between the two would create a firm with combined revenue of around £554 million ($733.14 million) and more than 1,300 lawyers.

Hunton & Williams has 14 offices across the U.S., alongside small international outposts in Brussels, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Bangkok, while Addleshaw has three U.K. offices and international offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, Oman, Qatar and Singapore.

A merger would increase both firms’ coverage with relatively little overlap, as the only duplicate office is in London, where Hunton & Williams has a seven-partner base.

Addleshaw posted revenue of £201.8 million ($267.05 million) for the 2015-16 financial year, up from £192.4 million ($254.61 million) the previous year, while profit per equity partner (PEP) soared by 39 percent to £682,000 ($902,531.52), from £491,000 ($649,769.76).

The firm’s results were boosted by fees paid for mandates from previous years, partly connected to the long-running Berezovsky litigation.

In contrast, Hunton & Williams’ turnover dropped 7 percent to $528 million in 2015, making it the 62nd largest firm by revenue in the U.S. Its PEP stood at $950,000, down 5 percent.

In the past 12 months, Addleshaw has also held merger talks with Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens, but they were called off earlier this year after the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

Addleshaw declined to comment and Hunton & Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

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A&O moves London capital markets head to Hong Kong

Allen & Overy (A&O) is relocating London capital markets partner Stephen Miller to Hong Kong, to lead its Asia capital markets practice.

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When he moves in September, Miller will take on the newly created role of regional practice head.

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Brexit means Brexit … but when?

Leaving the EU may not happen soon given the UK government does not know what it wants and is not yet equipped to ask for it.

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Two months ago on Tuesday, Britain voted to leave the European Union. The shock was immense; the fallout dramatic. But then summer came. The early turbulence subsided and normality (more or less) returned.

Brexit, though, has not yet begun to happen.

The government does not know what it wants and is not yet equipped to ask for it. Britain and the EU, it is increasingly clear, are far more intimately enmeshed than the leave camp had claimed. For all the leavers’ assurances, extricating the UK from the bloc, negotiating new relationships with Europe and the rest of the world – and ensuring that Britain’s laws and practices adapt – is a gargantuan undertaking.

The referendum result, however, is a political reality. The 52% of leave voters – and the politicians who represented them – expect it to be acted upon. So two months on, where does Brexit stand?

The legal challenges

The most immediate obstacle to Brexit is judicial. There is a substantial school of thought which says the government is not constitutionally entitled to pull the trigger on article 50 without the specific approval of parliament.

At least seven private actions have been grouped together and will be heard by the high court starting in October in what judges have said is a “matter of great constitutional importance”, with a decision possible by the end of the year.

Separately, cases have been launched in Northern Ireland arguing that Brexit would breach the Good Friday agreement by reinstating a physical border with the Republic of Ireland and undermining the legal basis for the 1998 peace deal.

So, while we may be two months in, you might want to get used to the waiting. Brexit may not happen quite yet.