Morgan Lewis & Bockius has big plans for Hong Kong.
The firm started off Monday by announcing expansion in the Asia-Pacific in an application to become a registered foreign law firm in Hong Kong, seeking approval to associate with Luk & Partners, a newly formed Chinese law firm.
Luk & Partners includes 13 attorneys who come from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and represent an expansion of Morgan Lewis’s corporate, capital markets, M&A and private equity practices, the firm said.
Jami McKeon, chair of Morgan Lewis, told Big Law Business that the decision to bring on Luk & Partners was only made after she herself went on-the-ground in Hong Kong and tested the fit.
She acknowledged that other firms have tried and failed to break into the Chinese legal market and be profitable in the region, but is convinced that Luk & Partners will stick because of its deep relationships in the mainland.
“I met the leaders of the practice, and spent time in Hong Kong, and it moved quite quickly,” said McKeon. “It was a fairly intense involvement.”
There was a lot at stake in the deal because Morgan Lewis had been eyeing the Hong Kong market for years and didn’t want to enter with a mis-step.
“Hong Kong tends to be an oversaturated, very expensive market, and a firm might be tempted to just plant a flag there,” McKeon explained. But after a series of meetings, McKeon was convinced that the team was the best match.
The 13 partners who comprise Luke & Partners, McKeon said, are Chinese and Hong Kong nationals, comprised of more than 70 additional lawyers and legal professionals. She said that the firm will provide Morgan Lewis with services to for Chinese privately owned and state owned firms that are seeking to expand and conduct business deals across the globe. At the same time, she said, Morgan Lewis institutional clients in the U.S. and Europe now have a broad legal team on the ground in China.
Asked how she is able to gauge a good lateral fit when she sees one, McKeon said: “You look and you think, ‘Is this going to be an exponential benefit to us?’ It’s got to be two plus two equals seven. And if it’s yes, and you like the people you talk to, I think all of those things fall into place.”
Morgan Lewis has filed an application to associate with Luk & Partners in accordance with the rules of The Law Society of Hong Kong, which has a reputation for acting quickly on such applications, she said.
Leading the team are Edwin Luk, one of Hong Kong’s most respected corporate lawyers, and Maurice Hoo, formerly Orrick’s global practice group co-leader in Hong Kong. Luk is well known for advising on Hong Kong capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity matters in relation to Chinese companies. Hoo is respected for his work in mergers and acquisitions and private equity.
In addition to Luk and Hoo, the new partners are Ning Zhang, June Chan, Connie Cheung, Keith Cheung, Rosita Chu, Eli Gao, Mathew Lewis, Louise Liu, Billy Wong, Yan Zeng, and Roger Zhou. Lewis is based in Shanghai, and the remainder in Hong Kong. Zang also works out of the Beijing office.
“There are a lot of people who try and fail in Hong Kong and it’s a market that if you don’t go into with the right team and the right practice, you can really run into problems,” said McKeon. “Our answer was wait for the right team, wait for people who we know by reputation and in some cases we know personally. You know the quality of their work.”
In other Morgan Lewis news, the firm said goodbye to two lawyers this week. On Thursday, news emerged that the antitrust partner Leiv Blad and attorney Zarema Jaramillo, who practice in Washington, D.C., would join Lowenstein Sandler. In the deal, Blad would become the co-chair of the firm’s antitrust practice.
But later that day, Morgan Lewis already had another hire overseas: it welcomed Dr. Ulrich Korth, a former principal associate at Linklaters, who joined the firm’s Frankfurt office as a corporate transactions partner.
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Tripp Baltz contributed reporting for this story.