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As international firms continue to recognise the strategic importance of it as a gateway to China and the rest of Asia, Hong Kong has become a pivotal battleground for pre-eminence in the legal profession.
US law firms have proven to be the most aggressive in recent years, with many of them establishing substantial Hong Kong law teams to supplement their already impressive US law departments.
US firms have not had it all their way, however. In 2012, Reed Smith Richards Butler lost several of its senior figures. Chris Howse, Christopher Williams and Kevin Bowers departed to form Howse Williams Bowers. In addition, prominent corporate and private equity partner Graham Winter left to join Gibson Dunn.
Another major story in Hong Kong was the combination of Australian firm Mallesons Stephens Jaques with PRC giant King & Wood, to form King & Wood Mallesons. This new firm can be classed as a genuine heavyweight in the Asia Pacific region.
Additional challenges have faced the Hong Kong legal market. In recent years, many firms have focused strongly on the capital markets, particularly with so many Chinese and international companies looking to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The growth of the renminbi bond market has also created considerable excitement. Yet in 2012, the rush to list on the Hong Kong exchange dramatically subsided, and many firms have found their transactional pipeline significantly hindered. Teams that were instructed to work on such transactions have struggled to close a deal.
Even so, this has not caused firms to disappear from the market, a phenomenon that has occurred a number of times previously. With the economic situation in the West still looking unstable, Hong Kong and Asia represents a growth market that is too compelling to ignore.